Service Projects Open Eyes for Football

July 28, 2010

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Anthony Anderson did his best to protest.

Last Wednesday, the Tennessee defensive back stood under an interstate overpass with his fellow junior teammates and tried to say no to the woman from Lost Sheep Ministries.

The Vols were on hand to visit and feed lunch to the homeless who gather there. Someone else was supposed to sing but couldn't make it.

After about a minute, Anderson relented and began to sing the gospel song, `I Won't Complain.'

Anderson grew up singing in church. He sings in the locker room all the time. He sang a few more songs on Wednesday, but it was a little different.

"It was out of our comfort zone for most guys," Anderson said. "Some things, you have to step up and do, even if you're not comfortable."

Wednesday's visit to feed the homeless definitely qualified. It's also the community service project UT's junior players chose.

"We let them loose," said character education coordinator Andre Lott, a former UT captain and five-year NFL veteran who returned to UT to lead head coach Derek Dooley's Vol For Life program. "I think that was really great because there had to be some leadership in that. Some guys really stepped up, and we had 100 percent participation."

The rest of UT's players participated in other community service activities last week as well, including campus cleanup and beautification and a trip to the Wesley Center's program in Knoxville's Lonsdale neighborhood.

Tennessee's athletes have always been active in the community, whether through hospital visits during the season or building houses with Habitat for Humanity or a number of other projects.

But a community service project just two weeks before the start of fall camp is a little unusual.

"When you're doing stuff like that, I think it talks about your character," Lott said. "I think it's going to carry into camp. Leadership, building those relationships, those guys being together like that. That camaraderie as a team. I think it's an easy transition going into camp for those guys."

Anderson agrees.

"When we were coming back from under the bridge, we were talking about how they're just people like us," Anderson said. "A lot of us would love to do it again. It was a life-changing experience for me, because I've never done something like that before. We were sitting down and talking to them.

"They have it hard just trying to stay alive every day, trying to stay warm or keep cool, trying to stay clean. That whole experience, we got a lot out of it."

One of the biggest lessons is just how fortunate many of them are to be in the position they're in.

"That was very humbling," Lott said. "I think the guys really realized how good they have it. It's humbling when you do stuff like that."

The timing was special in another way, too.

Just a few weeks earlier, the football team made headlines for the wrong reasons following an off-the-field incident.

Anderson said the community service projects helped deliver another message.

"It's perfect, right on point," Anderson said. "After the incident happened, some guys didn't realize how many eyes look at UT football. None of those guys (involved) are from Knoxville. They don't realize how big Orange Nation is.

"We have to do better than the next place or think before we do stuff, not just on the field but off the field. They're expecting the best of us all the time. I think the timing just fit right in. Be smart, take care of yourself, take care of your teammates. Do different things. Be responsible. They opened a lot of guys' eyes."

Emily Morgan, who serves as the community outreach coordinator for UT's CHAMPS/Life Skills program, said last week's service projects were a success.

"The best part is seeing the football players relate to people," she said, "and give back so much of what they've been blessed with."





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