Aug 17, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- In many stadiums, a crowd of 39,000 fans signals a fairly successful night at the gate for a game. At Neyland Stadium Saturday night, a crowd of 39,000 braved a driving rain to provide a game-like atmosphere for Butch Jones and the Volunteers in a tune up for the home opener against Austin Peay just two weeks away.
The crowd, many of whom started arriving on campus hours before the start of the event to give their tailgate routines a dry run similar to the one Jones put his team through, moved to higher ground when the rains came, huddling in the seating area underneath the upper deck. But few left the stadium, electing to stay and take in the public's first look at Team 117.
"It was definitely a great experience," junior defensive back Justin Coleman said of the crowd. "That was as close as you can get to real football. All of the fans were happy to be there, you could tell that everybody was ready for a game and this felt just like a game."
Jones began his post-practice media conference by thanking the fans, who he once again referred to as the best in the country.
"It was a game day-like atmosphere and I thought there were some great teaching lessons for our football team," Jones said. "A lot of those guys, walking down that tunnel, hearing the band playing and the excitement, that's the first time they've experienced that. I thought that was a great atmosphere to really develop our football team."
"It just shows the commitment of our fans," junior Tiny Richardson said, echoing the comments of his head coach. ""For me, especially for me, when I get under the lights I turn it on automatically. That is what I live for, performing in front of the fans. When you have 100,000 or 40,000 whatever it may be watching you, you have to step up."
The fans in attendance didn't just simulate the crowd that the Vols will see this season, they also helped the team dial up the intensity on the field. Coleman thought the practice, particularly the team periods, were even more competitive than the already competition-driven practices the Vols normally go through.
"When the fans are out there, you don't want to mess up in front of 40,000 or however many fans that were here," he said.