Competitive Vol family drove Gaither
Playing both sides of the ball for Myers Park High School just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, Omar Gaither excelled at both running back and linebacker. Colleges were taking notice and it didn't take long for Gaither to figure out where he wanted to play at the next level.
"I started to hear from Tennessee during my 10th grade year and after my junior year they invited me for camp," Gaither said. "I committed before my senior year. I went on to to compete in the shrine bowl and had a pretty good week. I was told it was one of the best games ever."
Then Tennessee defensive line coach Dan Brooks was in charge of recruiting the Tar Heel state and he did so at a high level for a long time. His sales pitch to Gaither was easy.
"Felt like home and I loved the stadium," Gaither said. "I loved coach Brooks and he just had honor about him and you felt like he was honest and just a hometown guy that relates well to southern guys. I felt like the staff would be there for a while and at the time they were winning a lot."
Gaither remembers vividly the big wins and he loved competing in big games because those are the memories that will live forever.
"I remember a lot of games," Gaither said. "I remember beating Florida in 2004 on Wilhoit's 50 yard field goal. Then we beat LSU after being down 21-0 at half. We just had a lot of great battles and there was James Banks hail mary against Florida. It was fun."
He was a two-year starter at Tennessee and he recorded 210 tackles with 6 sacks and 23 tackles for a loss. During his final campaign, Gaither finished with 78 tackles, 4 sacks, 7.5 tackles for a loss, and 4 forced fumbles en route to his second straight Second-team All-SEC. The games obviously stand out, but he also is quick to point out his competitive nature in practice.
"Our practices were very intense," Gaither said. "I never lost a Tennessee drill. I'm sure there are a ton of film in the archives. I remember going up against Corey Anderson and he never beat me. It's so intense and I felt like we all made each other better."
He also thoroughly enjoyed the family bond that he and his teammates still have.
"I loved Gibbs hall," Gaither said. "I remember having all the guys around. We were just a family. We worked hard all day and then went back to Gibbs together. We were so close. We went home to our own home and just had a bond that you can't find in any other walk of life."
Gaither loved his teammates and still communicates with several to this day. He credits Eddie Moore for showing him the ropes and last Saturday he was back in Knoxville to watch the Vols. Before the game, he was chatting it up with Marvin Mitchell, Jason Allen and several other former Vols in attendance. Given the chance, he'd love to lace them up for the orange and white one more time.
"I miss it a lot," Gaither said. "If I could go back and play a game at Tennessee I would. Seeing them play against Alabama was great. I've seen stadiums all over the country and it's a great place to play football. All we have to do is start winning and it's going to take off again. There aren't many places like Neyland Stadium."
Gaither was proud of the effort last Saturday and believes Tennessee has the right man leading the way.
"I think coach Butch is getting the most out of the guys he has there," Gaither said. "They are doing about as good as they can do. I obviously want to see the program at the top. I think he is the guy that can get us there. I'm a Vol for life and I still brag on them as much as I can. I think it's going in the right direction."
Gaither was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles after graduation at Tennessee. He played for the Eagles for five seasons and has bounced around the last three with Carolina, Oakland and Atlanta. He is yet to retire and hopes for one last run.
"Just waiting on a call," Gaither said. "It takes just one team to have a need. I feel like I can still play and just need to latch on to a coach that believes in me."
And a belief to still be great is what drives the North Carolina native and will into his future.