Aug. 27, 2014
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- Youth has been a theme of training camp for Tennessee, something that has been no secret to anyone that has heard or read about Team 118.
Butch Jones expects that as many as 28 newcomers will play against Utah State on Sunday night. Those 28 newcomers may not know exactly what to expect when they run through the T and officially begin their careers at UT, but they do know ready to experience it. The wait is almost over.
"I'm glad football season is back," defensive lineman Derek Barnett said. "We've been working hard, I just can't wait to get to Sunday."
Jalen Hurd's the wait has been even longer. An injury cost him all but the opening game of his senior high school season. As a mid-term enrollee, Hurd saw the field in the Dish Orange and White Game following spring practice, but Sunday will be his first competitive football game in over a year.
"Feelings of excitement," Hurd said when asked to reflect on what he expects Sunday night. "It's not just looking at the little clock in the team room that says '150 days.' It's four days now and I couldn't be more excited."
The excitement leading up to the game can manifest itself as nerves when the day arrives. But Hurd welcomes those nerves as the edge he needs.
"I'm definitely going to be nervous for my first game, that's for every football game," Hurd said. "But that nervousness is really excitement and your excitement to play the game."
The excitement extends to the fans that will pack the stands Sunday night, eager for their first look at many of the new players will be counted on early and often. Jones feels confident that they're up to the task, a bright sign for Sunday, the season and the seasons to come.
"I was driving home last night thinking about the 32 signees and how much they've progressed," said Jones. "They're going to be a special class. I'm as encouraged and excited as I've ever been about the future and where we're going."
Hurd is listed as the second running back on the UT depth chart, while Barnett and tight end Ethan Wolf are among the freshmen listed as starters.
"I was excited," Barnett said of seeing his name atop the chart when it was released on Monday. "That means I'm held to a higher standard now, and I have to do the little things right and continue to get better. I can't be happy and complacent."
Wolf comes across as an even-keeled player every day. He knows he needs that mentality entering game one Sunday night
"Hopefully controlled," said Wolf on his emotions. "It's going to be a big environment that a lot of us aren't used to playing in, but we can't use that as an excuse. We have to control our emotions. If you get over-hyped before the game even starts, it'll mess with your mind and you'll make mental mistakes and you can't afford to that at this level."
Keeping emotion in check and putting the focus where it needs to be is the biggest challenge the young team has to face, according to Hurd.
"Just breathe in, breathe out and take it one play at a time," he said. "Don't focus on the crowd, don't focus on what's going on, just focus in on that one play."