Nov. 24, 2012
By Brian Rice UTSports.com
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Walking off the field at Neyland Stadium for the final time as winners was an appropriate end for the 13 senior Volunteers that have experienced so much in their careers at Tennessee. The fact that so many of those seniors played a key role in the 37-17 victory over Kentucky made their swan song even sweeter. Zach Rogers caught a touchdown on the Vols' opening drive, giving UT its first lead of the day.
"It was very special, it means everything," Rogers said of the catch and the win. "It was nice to score for the last time and to do great things with this offense. It was definitely emotional for me, putting on the "T" for the last time and running out and playing in front of these fans for the last time, but I was just glad to get this win."
The adversity faced by this senior class was a common theme in the postgame comments from players and coaches. Interim Head Coach Jim Chaney said the experiences gained over their careers would be beneficial to the seniors as they move to the next phase of their lives.
"It'll be interesting to see in 20 years exactly what these young men are doing," Chaney said. "What did they learn in college, what happened in college, what transpired that made them tougher, made them learn to fight through adversity? They learned definitely about change. They got to see that up close and personal. The different personalities they had to deal with in coaching staffs is remarkable.
Everybody goes through that in their job, having to deal with different personalities. I do believe they'll be stronger because of it. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll be successful because they were here because it was tough, but down the road I know they'll still be die hard Tennessee people and that's what we're trying to do."
"There was a lot of adversity, but at the same time, that will definitely make us stronger down the road," Rogers said, echoing Chaney's comments. "We may not be able to see it now in the short term, but it will definitely help us grow as men. I learned a lot here and had great experiences here."
Mychal Rivera had a team-high five catches for 64 yards and a 3rd quarter touchdown that extended Tennessee's lead to 27-17.
"A lot of adversity hit us," Rivera said, reflecting back on his time in Orange and White. "There were a lot of ups and downs, but it just teaches us about life. Life isn't easy and you're going to have to overcome things that aren't in your plan." Leading a team for the first time as interim head coach, Chaney said that rewarding the seniors for their effort and leadership was his focus in preparations for the season finale. Seeing the work pay off with the victory was a rewarding experience for Chaney.
"It means everything," he said. "I told them yesterday for years as a coordinator I preached about games being about players. It has nothing to do with the coaches. It's about players. When you walk across that big line, it's about players. Guys, it's just you versus those 11. You don't have to worry about some guy on the sideline. There's none of that. There's no anxiety of that. It's just you guys playing. Today was the purest form of players versus players you can find."
When asked to reflect on his career, Rivera credited the fans for his experience, and said the lead-up to his final game left a lasting impression.
"I'm going to miss the fans out here - they're so committed," Rivera said. "It's crazy to see fans at 9:30 in the morning at the Vol Walk when it's freezing and they're all out there cheering... I'm really going to miss that."