By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- The newest addition to the Anderson Training Center came online late this summer and student-athletes and coaches say the latest may be the best addition yet.
Smokey's Sports Grill, the long-planned replacement for the Varsity Inn at Gibbs Hall opened during Tennessee's training camp in August. The dining space is part training table and part sports-themed restaurant, functional to meet the nutritional needs of Volunteer student-athletes while also comfortable enough to be a place for teams to bond.
"It is a tribute to the vision here with Dave Hart and the administration because to me those are the little things that people don't see," head football coach Butch Jones said of Smokey's. "That is where your team bonds, that is where they come together, you go downstairs, you eat together, you have a first-class facility now we great food. Our players stay there and they hang out with each other."
The decor in Smokey's is that of a modern sports grill, with a glass and brick theme throughout and giant flatscreen televisions hanging from the ceiling in every corner.
Smokey's serves as the primary training table for athletes from all sports at Tennessee, with lunch available to every scholarship athlete . Bringing athletes from all walks together for a meal together every day has helped continue to strengthen the "One Tennessee" theme that has become a motto of the entire athletic program at UT.
"It's good to be down there, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin said. "During lunch, we get to eat with the other teams, it's good to have all the athletes around each other. During dinner, it's like our team bonding time. It's a good place to get all the guys together and be a family."
Wide receiver Josh Smith said that building togetherness among all of the Tennessee athletes is a primary draw of the new dining space.
"I think it's pretty awesome that every sport can be with the other sports and get to know each other," Smith said. "Being around each other every day is a great way for us to get involved and support each other."
During the design process, Jones wanted the new dining area to be another place for his team to bond and relax. One of the first events held there did just that. A launch party for the SEC Network brought coaches and student-athletes from every sport together for a dinner celebrating the new network.
The atmosphere has made Smokey's a popular place any time its door are open.
"It's great with TVs everywhere," Reeves-Maybin said. "We have drinks to choose from, food to choose from, we can have pretty much anything we want any time of the day."
Smokey's is one of two areas in the complex where players can congregate to get a meal or a snack, along with the Big Orange Fuel Nutrition Station adjacent to the main weight room. Jones feels those two areas have helped separate Tennessee from the pack when it comes to nutritional support for student-athletes.
"It is a tremendous advantage for our players," Jones said. "It's all part of the sports science, the nutrition and recovery that we talk about."