Jan. 31, 2014
NEWARK, N.J. -- Peyton Manning stated clearly for the world to hear at Super Bowl Media Day.
"Tennessee Volunteer football is coming back."
The man in charge of that comeback in Knoxville is Butch Jones.
As five former Vols prepare to play on the world's stage in the Super Bowl, they are each confident that Tennessee football is ready to make a return to the national stage with Jones at the helm.
"We couldn't have gotten a better guy," said Broncos punter and Knoxville native Britton Colquitt, who played at UT from 2005-08. "I think we are headed in the right direction for sure."
Denver defensive lineman Malik Jackson finished his time on Rocky Top just before Jones arrived, but has built confidence in Jones' staff. Jackson talked about how several members of Denver's D-Line were coached by Steve Stripling including Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson and how that showed the caliber of player that comes out of their programs.
"Butch is a great guy," said Jackson, who played with the Vols in 2010 and 2011. "Stripling produces, its great to see so many (players in the league who played for him). They have a great coach, great staff, great people. I know they are going to do great things."
One of the primary ways Jones and his staff have connected with the former players is by reaching out to them and making them feel a part of the program as it returns to prominence.
It has been well-documented that Jones texted Manning immediately after his first win with the Vols, the 800th win in Volunteer football history. Jones congratulated Manning on the 800th victory and let him know how important he was to Tennessee's football legacy.
Jones has made a habit of connecting with the men who have had the chance to run through the T and sing Rocky Top on a regular basis.
"The first thing Butch did when he got (to Tennessee) was he reached out to the alumni," said Broncos' defensive lineman Robert Ayers. "He told us he wants us to come back and share our knowledge with the younger guys."
The Vol For Life program helps connect the former players with the current players. Once you wear the Orange & White, you are a VFL.
"We have a lot of guys who played before me," said Ayers. "We see each other and we say `VFL' that's the first thing we talk about. We all share that common thing, being a VFL. We are passionate about it and what's best for the University."
Ayers and Jackson are looking forward to the opportunity of mentoring the current Vols.
"We want to give back to the school," said Ayers. "Butch is offering for players to do that. I would love to go back and talk to them. Not necessarily about football, but about life. There's so much more to football than the game. I want to go back and I want to bond with a lot of the guys and let them know if I can assist them in their path to get (to the NFL), I'm open to it."
Colquitt returns to his hometown every summer and this past one was no different. While working out with fellow VFLs, brother Dustin, who punts for the Kansas City Chiefs and Adam Gillem, Colquitt said Jones gave them a very warm reception.
"We went up and talked to Coach Jones and he was awesome," said Colquitt. "He's big on bringing guys back and welcoming old players and alumni. He said `if you guys are ever here, come see me, if you need anything, I've got you' ."
Tony McDaniel, of the Seahawks, has yet to meet with Jones personally, but has received rave reviews from his close friend and former NFL defensive back Jason Allen, who gave a full endorsement to Jones.
Jackson summed up Jones' passion for the former Vols, "Butch showed me love right away."