Aug. 4, 2009
Josh Pate, Tennessee Sports Information
When the opening horn blew at 2:45 p.m., Matt Pruitt was on the roof of the Phi Sigma Kappa house on campus. He and five other fraternity brothers got a bird's eye view of Tennessee's first fall practice Tuesday afternoon under new head coach Lane Kiffin.
"We've been following all offseason and found out the practice started at 3 and all the excitement surrounding it, so we thought we'd check it out and see how we looked," said the fifth-year senior majoring in nuclear engineering. "I'm excited that he's stirring up the rivalries with Florida and everybody because that kind of died off after they beat us every year. I'm really excited about the new recruits. It's supposed to be a simpler offense so hopefully it will be clicking a little better this year."
Pruitt and his frat brothers weren't the only ones excited.
The vibe at Haslam Field was electric, and the tempo was full-speed. The Vols practiced without pads in their first fall tune-up, but that didn't slow the intensity.
"It was intense like we expected it to be," said senior center Josh McNeil. "It was really hot [Tuesday] - a lot hotter than it has been the last week. So that kind of surprised us all. It was really physical even without pads, and that's what we've learned to expect from [Kiffin]."
The beginning of a new era was evident from the start. Music blasted from the speakers to kick things off and get players psyched. And it worked, along with some help from the coaching staff.
Freshman wide receiver Nu'Kesse Richardson took heat from position coach Frank Wilson when he dropped a ball; signifying perfection is the goal of this tenure. Graduate assistant coach Scott Thompson was sprinting down field with his receivers to inspire high-speed play once the practice got moved indoors for weather. Some players were nursing minor bangups but went full-bore when the whistle blew.
"It's good to have the intensity that we have," said senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton. "We really like to see guys get out there and play through the pain. Everybody notices that. Even if they don't say anything, they notice it." Perhaps the most noticeable example of intensity was defensive backs swiping at ball carriers constantly, no matter how long a receiver had the ball in his hands.
"It's so annoying," said junior receiver Gerald Jones. "Eric [Berry] got me. My gloves started getting sweaty so I was holding going back after I made a catch and he came and just knocked it out. It's annoying, but like coach said, by the time the game comes it will increase our awareness. Keep that ball tight."
Drop it and it's either pushups or a lap. It's all part of a new staff, new era, new approach - whatever you want to call it. But the players will tell you the intensity of practice under Kiffin and staff is epitomized by the sign draping over Haslam Field's entrance: Lock In!
"I got the vibe when I first pulled up to Tennessee," Jones said. "It's always up-tempo. They're always going to push you to your limit. There's never going to be a dead day. These coaches, they really push us to the limit, and I expect them to continue to do that. The vibe is up-tempo, upbeat, a lot of energy. And the whole team is feeling it."