April 17, 2010
BY DREW EDWARDS
KNOXVILLE -- Jeff Francis to Sam Pinner to Peerless Price isn't exactly a classic Tennessee connection.
Not at first glance, anyway.
That connection - with another lateral in between - opened the scoring in a flag football game between former UT football players at halftime of Saturday's Orange and White Game.
For about 10 minutes, players from different eras relived the old days in front of about 35,000 fans. And they all seemed to revel in the Neyland Stadium sunshine one more time.
"It's a lot of fun - because everybody's making sure we don't get hurt," former defensive end Will Overstreet said. "Getting out with all those guys and playing a game, you just get to have fun. And see how bad of shape everybody else is in and that you're not the only one that's in terrible shape. That's good to see, too."
"This is our thing," said Fred White, a former Vols safety. "Getting a chance to see guys like Peerless Price and Sterling Hinton and Al Wilson and Joey Kent - former greats. Guys we looked up to, even as teammates. These guys got it done. It was fun to get out there and just do it again."
Ultimately, that's the bond that unites them all.
It doesn't matter when they played or how much. All-American or walk-on, first-round pick or reserve, they're all Vols.
"This right here shows you that we're a family," said former UT running back Mark Levine. "When you get recruits come in and they say, `There's just something about that family feel,' this is real. We all feel like we're family. This is one time we get together.
"But we try to do it twice a year at different venues. It doesn't matter what city I'm in. If there's a Vol there, I can call on him. It's just great, and it's just part of being a family. Unless you're a part of it, you really don't know that feeling. It's wonderful."
Even UT head coach Derek Dooley felt that bond on Saturday.
"That's great to see those lettermen," Dooley said after the game. "There's nothing like coming back and seeing your old football team. The smiles on their faces down there, you can't put a price on that. There's nobody in the country that has better lettermen than we have. They support the program unconditionally.
"It gives me a chill to see those guys. They're a big part of our program, and I hope they keep coming back."
That won't be a problem.
Each of the last three seasons, players have gotten together for a lettermen's tailgate before a home game in the fall. They've done charity basketball games in the spring, and they're planning on doing even more.
"A couple years ago, guys like Al (Wilson) and Leonard Little talked about how they wished they could come back to the University of Tennessee and see everybody and have a good time all over again," White said. "Now it's getting even bigger. We're starting to do bigger events, and we're starting to do stuff for charity as well. It's a big event. Just bringing guys back. All these guys that played here, they bleed it. They love it."
About 30 former players added sweat to the list on Saturday during the flag football game. But former players were all over Neyland Stadium, just like in years past.
Former running backs David Yancey and Gerald Riggs chatted with fans along the East stands. Eric Berry, a week away from becoming a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, chatted with Jarod Parrish, who he beat out for a starting job as a true freshman, on the sidelines.
It wasn't hard to spot a former player sharing a laugh or an old story - and usually both - with fans, former teammates or an athletic department staffer.
For a little more than two hours Saturday afternoon, Tennessee's current players jockeyed for position on the depth chart in the last official practice of spring. But in just a few years, many of those same players will be back.
And they'll be part of a bigger team.
"We're all the same," White said. "We're all former Volunteers. We bleed that orange. That's the part about this weekend that we love. Guys coming back and having a good time. It's all about being a part of the University and being here. We want to show that we care about it. They come back because they care about what's going on."