By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Butch Jones wanted a game-like atmosphere for his team at Neyland Stadium on Saturday night and Big Orange Nation obliged with an energetic performance in the stands at Tennessee's open practice.
A season ago, Jones turned an idea hatched with Peyton Manning for an exhibition game-style tuneup into a reality, and the new tradition's second act turned out even bigger than the first. An estimated 40,000 fans turned out in orange for their first look at Team 118, creating an atmosphere that helped show the Vol newcomers just what to expect when the lights are on for real.
"The challenge with every practice is to create a game mindset, a game intensity, that game energy that we speak about all the time," Jones said. "To be able to come in here and perform in front of our great fans, thank you to all of you for coming out here and creating a game-like atmosphere. We needed this for the development of our football team."
Junior wide receiver Von Pearson played in front of a big crowd in the Dish Orange and White game this spring and was once again impressed, but not surprised, at the fan turnout and the energy those fans brought.
"It was a great feeling out there tonight, it was electric," said Pearson. "I felt like I had some extra moves in me, we were always into it."
Justin Worley, newly minted as the starting quarterback felt the fan support was just the boost the Vols needed as camp hits its midpoint.
"It's always great to be out here in front of the fans," Worley said. "There was a little more energy, a little more bouncing around on third downs, it was great."
Third downs became a key focus as the night wore on. During a live team period, Jones introduced the fans to a new staple, "Third Down for What," a remixed clip of a popular song that has been played throughout training camp and will remain on the game playlist for defensive third down situations.
Jones explained the clip, remixed by stadium DJ and former Vol quarterback Sterling Henton, and its use to fans over the PA system and they roared with approval as the third down situations continued through the night.
"We all picked that song," Pearson said. "We all know what time it is when that song comes on. We've got to go hard."
Linebacker A.J. Johnson was excited to hear the crowd's response to the new in-game sound.
"Third down for what?" Johnson said, repeating the phrase with a broad smile. "I know the whole state of Tennessee is going to be turn down to stop them on third down."
But the conversation kept turning back to the energy of the fans and the contribution they made to practice just as they will when Utah State enters Neyland Stadium in two weeks.
"It was amazing," freshman linebacker Dillon Bates said of his first experience in front of a Neyland Stadium crowd. "I definitely had those butterflies coming in, but that was good, you never get those anywhere else. That's the greatest feeling in the world. To come out of the tunnel to all the fans just to watch a practice, just to show how important this team is to the community, to Vol Nation, it was great to see this turnout."
Pearson saw the passion and excitement of fans for a practice is just a small taste of what is to come.
"I know they're hungry for us to win some games," Pearson said. "When we win, this town is going to erupt."