Nov. 26, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vol Nation as stayed tried and true to the Vols through the 2013 season which has been filled with ups and downs. Butch Jones made sure to point out he appreciates what he calls the 'best fans in America.'
"I would like to thank our fan base. Outstanding. We are up in attendance," Jones began his Tuesday press conference. "Especially our student body, we are up over 2,000 students per game. That is something that we really take great pride in with our student body.
"I think this is a great opportunity today to say thank you to them and thank you to our great fan base for supporting this football team. We are going to need their support moving forward."
Tennessee's overall game attendance is up 6.2 percent in 2013 to 95,584 from 89,965 last season. Neyland Stadium's average attendance is sixth in the nation in 2013. A total of 669,087 have passed through the turnstiles at Neyland.
The players understand the impact of the fans and what it means to represent the University of Tennessee.
"I'm most thankful for Vol Nation," said senior Marlon Walls. "It means the world to me. It has been a blessing. You take things like that for granted, but knowing Tennessee's tradition it's a blessing to walk out on that field, it's a blessing to have great fans like we do. Through the ups and downs, they've been consistent. They back us through losses and wins. My hat is off to them.
"I love them, I'll never forget them and I respect them for just showing love over the tough years. I love Vol Nation and appreciate everything they've done for us."
LOOKING TOWARD 1,000
Senior running back Rajion Neal is just 10 yards away from hitting the 1,000-yard running mark.
When he accomplishes the feat this Saturday, Neal will be the first Tennessee running back since Montario Hardesty in 2009 (in a regular-season). Tauren Poole reached 1,000 yards in the Vols' bowl game during the 2010 campaign.
Neal is ready.
"It is exciting," said Neal. "I think it is a big privilege to be a back in this league and reach a goal like that. I have a lot of help from my guys on the perimeter and definitely the guys up front. It is something that I feel that we all deserve, it is something that we are all looking forward to, it is on the front of our minds, we are hungry for it and we can't wait."
The goal was set prior to the 2013 season for Neal and could only be accomplished with belief from his coaches that he could achieve it.
It could also only be accomplished with a change from within.
"I just started to realize [a difference in me] in the spring with the new staff," said Neal. The competition was starting back up in the position was open. Going into my last year and knowing that we haven't had a back to rush for 1,000 yards in the regular season, in 12 games since Montario Hardesty, that was a big thing for me, something that drove me, that fueled me. I definitely wanted to leave a mark here."
Neal has already left a mark on the Tennessee record books. Against Vanderbilt Neal broke the 2,000 yard rush mark, just the 14th Vol to achieve the feat.
Neal is also on the second Vol to rush for over 2,000 yards and catch 600+ yards during his career.
He doesn't take those records lightly and has worked hard to earn those yards.
"The way that I look at the game, how serious I take it.," said Neal. "How much I dissect film and outside of playing ball, how much I look at other guys and how they play the game and take notice of little details. I have grown to respect the game and love it way more."
"Hopefully [in a year I will] still playing ball," said Neal. "Only God knows where I am headed."
LEAVE A LEGACY
With 27 Vols capping their careers at Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday night, many have begun reflecting on their legacies in the Orange and White.
It hasn't been the easiest of roads for any senior on the Vols' roster, but defensive lineman Marlon Walls believes there was a purpose behind it.
"Honestly, I think God chose us to go through it," said Walls. "It was our destiny, as much as we don't like it. I guess he thought we were strong enough to do it in order for this program to get back where it's supposed to be.
"Even though this season was a disappointment, I think for the young guys it opened up their eyes and we pushed them in a positive way and they pushed us. I think next year they'll be very motivated, very hungry and will refuse to let happen what happened to us. I hope it's motivation to them."
Fellow defensive front man Corey Miller said he wanted to be remembered for his hustle and as a guy that truly gives his all for Tennessee.
"I would hope it would be that I am a guy that tries to bring energy," said Miller. "I tell (Corey) Vereen all the time don't let what is going on this year dictate what goes on next year. Be the guy that starts it off from the jump. Be the guy that is giving energy. Be the guy that is leading the team."
Miller and Walls also wanted to leave special messages for the younger members of Team 117.
"I tell myself every day, if I would have known back then what I know now, I would have done a little bit more," said Miller. "I guess that is the message - tell these guys to do a little extra because time flies by. You don't understand it until it is gone."
In his message, Walls stressed the true importance of being a Tennessee Vol.
"Realize what it means to play at Tennessee," said Walls. "I want them to click-up this offseason and never let happen what happened to us in our four or five years of being here. I want them to realize what power you hold putting that jersey on and who is watching.
"It goes way back before us. There's a standard to be upheld. Respect that T and get it back to where it's supposed to be. That's the main mission. Get Tennessee back on top."
MOTIVATION FOR A WIN
There is a fact that is on every single mind of the members of Team 117 this week.
It looms heavily on the mind of redshirt senior defensive lineman Marlon Walls.
Walls does not want to be a member of the only team in Tennessee history to have eight losses.
"It's very important," said Walls. "We don't want to go out like that. That is what's at stake right now. We know we're a good team; we know we can go out and get it done Saturday. We refuse to let that happen. We're going to work this week and use that as motivation."
The Vols entered last season's game with Kentucky in the same situation, but had home field advantage. This year, they are headed up 75 to Lexington with a lot of motivation.
"That's very motivational," said Walls. "We refuse to be the first team that loses eight games in Tennessee history. This goes way back;it's way more important than us. We have to hold the bar. The bar has been set for us the past few years so it's time for us to go to work."
The Vols have added motivation in beating Kentucky on the road as they look to continue their win-streak against the Wildcats after it ended two years ago in Lexington.
"That was terrible," said senior center James Stone. "That is something that we will never forget. That is something that haunts you when you have a loss like that and you end a streak like that at the end of the year."
"It is something that we want to get back and end this season with a win so these guys can go into the offseason with a win."