By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Looking to newcomers to make an impact early and often will be a common thread for Team 118, one that has already been verbalized repeatedly in the build up to camp.
Now that the players have hit Haslam Field, Butch Jones and his Tennessee Football team are seeing that impact all over, particularly on offense.
Freshman running back Jalen Hurd and junior wide receiver Von Pearson each made noise in spring practice as January enrollees, but now that the lights of fall camp are on and the opener stands just 29 days away, each has set his sights on continuing to stand out. And neither player has the let avalanche of expectations that came with strong spring performances overwhelm them as they begin their UT careers in earnest.
"We have to be careful that we don't, as coaches, put a lot on their table early," Jones said of his newcomers. "We have to just ease them in and the more they can do. It is like little buckets, every individual has a role on this football team, and you start with that and you continue to grow that role and expand upon it as training camp continues to progress."
Hurd couldn't ignore the attention that he received from Vol fans as a highly-touted in-state player from Hendersonville. He saw the attention and the expectations as a feature, not a bug.
"I don't [think of them]," Hurd said. "I love Tennessee and I love the fans. I grew up here. I just want to give everybody what they expect me to do."
"I think he has been used to having those expectations placed upon him since he was probably in tenth or ninth grade," Jones said of Hurd. "So he is used to those. But it is how you mange those expectations, it is how they drive you each and every day. And it is not getting caught up in the clutter and the distractions. There is so much he has to learn, to pass protect, run routes, finish runs, but he has had a very, very good camp so far."
Pearson made waves in the spring with a one-handed circus catch in practice during the spring that made SportsCenter's #SCTop10. That catch, along with an impressive highlight reel from junior college, brought comparisons to another junior college receiver that made an instant impact at Tennessee, Cordarrelle Patterson. Pearson sees the attention as just another piece of his background. A background that has made him stronger as a person and as a football player.
"I come from a hard life," Pearson said. "I was never able to make it during high school, but now, I feel like nothing can phase me. I try to keep the high energy because nothing else can go wrong. I have this second chance now. Why be mad?"
The attitude he carries to the complex and the practice field is exactly the example Jones wants all of his players to follow.
"He fits the description of the Energy Bus," Jones said referencing Jon Gordon's book that was an off-season read for Team 118. "He is consistent each and every day. And he is grateful for the opportunity to be at the Tennessee. He is grateful to be able to play the game of football. For me, that is very, very rewarding. To see where that young man has come. The gratitude that he has each and everyday. He walks by me every day and taps me and says, `Thank you, Coach, Thank you for the opportunity.' The kids feed off of that and he is always positive. We talk about not only leadership but also being a good teammate and he is a good teammate as well."
The physical game of college football has been a significant step up for both players, but Hurd said that wasn't the toughest difference between high school and this level.
"Then mental game, coming in, it's something difficult that you have to get used to," Hurd said. "And just the tempo of the game, I'm kinda getting used to that. When you know your plays and you get up to the line and you're worrying about what the defense is doing, instead of where you're aligned and what you're doing, it definitely helps.
Pearson wasn't distracted by the attention that came from his brush with SportsCenter fame, but he definitely aims for a repeat performance by using his favorite scenario in the wide receiver repertoire.
"The jump ball," he said of his favorite move. "I enjoy it a lot because that's when most plays are made."