Nov. 18, 2013
By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-- Tennessee will face many challenges from Vanderbilt on Saturday evening at Neyland Stadium, but it's an internal challenge that concerns Butch Jones and will be a focus heading into senior night against Vanderbilt.
Twenty-eight Volunteers seniors will make their final run through the T on Saturday night in what is always an emotional moment, a celebration of years of hard work and sacrifice. Jones has said from the start that he doesn't want an emotional football team, but one that has a consistent effort. It was a message he echoed on Monday.
"This should be a great opportunity for our seniors, Senior Night in Neyland," Jones said. "You always remember your last game at home, you always guard against, as a coach, the emotional factor. A lot of times, seniors playing their last home game, forget the task at hand.
The emotions always run high on senior day, but this group has seen so many things in its time at Tennessee, with challenges on he field and coaching changes away from it. When theses seniors began careers at UT, the Anderson Training Center was just a spare practice field. Some, like fifth-year seniors Daniel Hood and Marlon Walls, have seen three head coaches. Neyland Stadium's new brick exterior was still at a brickyard when they first strapped on the pads inside its walls.
"These seniors have been through a lot," said Jones. "I've talked to them about their experiences, some good, some bad, some indifferent. It's been a resilient group of young men. They're laying the foundation for the future successes of Tennessee football."
That foundation could be made more solid with a pair of wins and a postseason appearance for Team 117. But win number six can't come without win number five, and that's what Jones has his players focused on heading into the emotional final home week.
"We talked about playing meaningful games in November and we're playing meaningful games in November," Jones said of the bowl aspirations for the Volunteers. "We need them to play their best football and not get caught up in the external clutter and all that that goes into making up that emotional state of mind."
Jones said the glass has turned for the seniors, that there are more football days behind them than in front at Tennessee. Now those seniors have to make the most of every snap ahead of them.
"It's very special to be a senior, you only get that once," he said. "Football is unlike any other sport in the world. When you're done playing basketball, you can still go play basketball in pick up leagues with your sons. When you're done playing golf, tennis or even baseball, you can always go play those games. When you're done playing football, you're done playing football. You'll never put the cleats and the helmet on again. You only have so many snaps left in you, and you need to take advantage of those snaps. You need to enjoy you time, the hourglass has turned over."