July 15, 2014
By Brian Rice
Hoover, Ala. - Tennessee Football will will be built on the "Power of One" in 2014, and SEC Football Media Days represent the first opportunity for a team to make an impression.
To make that first impression, Butch Jones leaned heavily on a theme that will run the entire season: Leadership.
Boasting one of the nation's youngest rosters, Tennessee will rely on the leadership of the few upperclassmen to take the steps necessary to compete in the Southeastern Conference. The group that represented Tennessee in the mad house that is the Wynfrey Hotel stood out as the best of the group that Jones is counting on to bring along the younger players.
"Our veteran players have done a great job of really mentoring our younger players," Jones said. "That's why A.J. Johnson, Curt Maggitt and Mack Crowder are with us today. They've earned the right to represent the University of Tennessee with their consistency and their approach on a day-to-day basis but also their leadership qualities."
Redshirt junior Mack Crowder has just one career start in 10 games played as a Volunteer, but after being crowned the starter at center by Jones, the Bristol, Tennessee native represented the offense in Hoover.
"It is an honor to represent Team 118 in front of the whole country," said Crowder. "(To be one of) just three guys to do it, it's a great experience. You can't ask for anything better, especially to be asked by your coach.
Crowder will help anchor a line that replaces all five starters, with his nod against South Carolina a season ago the only start on the resume of the entire group.
"This is an opportunity for us to go out there and prove that we can play," Crowder said of the relative inexperience along the line. "We've obviously been in the background the past couple years and we are all really looking forward to going out there and showing what we have. What I'm hoping to accomplish is going out there and getting the job done, helping my team any way I can."
Johnson and Maggitt come from the other end of the spectrum, with a combined 51 starts in 56 games played. Jones called Johnson his biggest recruit on National Signing Day after his decision to bypass the NFL to return to campus for his senior season.
"We're excited to have A.J. Back," Jones said Tuesday. "He means so much to our football team, being our middle linebacker. He's the quarterback of our defense. But he wants to get a college degree. The NFL will be there for him."
Johnson has always been a player that has led by example, but Jones needed him to be the vocal leader for this team. It's a role he has embraced.
"My role is building myself to be a better leader, being more vocal and having other guys around me that are being vocal and leading as well," Johnson said. "Just having a group of guys who lead and help the whole team and the young guys who came in, they've been working real hard. Some of the guys who came in early in the spring are already on beat, working, being vocal, just as though they've been here for 3 or 4 years."
Maggitt missed the 2013 season with an injury, but was still a vocal leader on and off the field.
"I think it speaks volumes about Curt Maggitt," Jones said. "He is the leader of our football team. He was the leader last year, unfortunately he wasn't able to participate on the field. So being able to get him back on the grass for our football team, he's going to be a presence. He's a very talented football player. He'll add an edge presence to our defense, but also we'll move him around at linebacker. He demands respect. He's accountable to his teammates."
Maggitt saw the opportunity to represent the program as the next step in getting back to his rightful place on the gridiron.
"It's a great opportunity and a blessing to represent this historic program and its tradition and all of the alumni," Maggitt said. "It's an honor to represent the team and I'm grateful that coach chose me and the other two guys to represent the team."
Even someone of his stature wasn't immune from some of the oddball questions that SEC Media Days can be known for.
"They asked what was my favorite Halloween costume," Maggitt said of a session with CBS where he proudly recalled a series of Oct. 31sts spent dressed as various Ninjas.
Would Maggitt recreate the costume this year, a night before the Vols face South Carolina in Columbia?
"I could probably do that," he said. "I don't know which one I would be though."