Dec. 19, 2013
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- With the next steps on the playing field still nine months away, Butch Jones has Tennessee ready to control what it can control, winning the offseason.
The Volunteers are off to a good start in doing just that, posting the second-highest team GPA for a fall semester in program history. Every player on the UT roster passed the requisite number of hours in the semester and are fully eligible going forward. 40 members of Team 117 posted a GPA of 3.0 or better, while 10 members of the team graduated in fall commencement ceremonies at Tennessee last Friday.
"It is all about the foundation of excellence and the standard within your football program," Jones said of the academic progress. "A lot of thanks goes to Joe Scogin and the entire Thornton Center staff. That standard of excellence that we have through the entire football program, Joe and his staff are instrumental in that."
The next step in winning the offseason comes on the recruiting trail, another place where UT is off to a good start. Jones announced the signing of three junior college transfers via press release on Wednesday and formally welcomed them to the football family on Thursday.
"They are great, great additions," Jones said of Dontavius Blair, Von Pearson and Owen Williams. "They haven't played on down of football at Tennessee but the great thing is, they will be here at mid year. That improves our overall depth and competitiveness across the board. Competitiveness lends itself to improving individually and as a football team. We need to generate competition across the board."
Jones anticipates a total of 14 new players to enroll in January and take part in the offseason conditioning program and spring practice, giving the newcomers a leg up on their initial seasons.
"(There are)Many benefits," said Jones about the mid-term enrollees. "They gain spring football, a half of year of eligibility. When August rolls around, physically they are able to develop. The learning curve, all that you do mentally and physically, team bonds and chemistry, comfort level. The advantages are endless, it is invaluable."
Jones tied the ability to bring in so many players at midyear to the academic successes the team has had since he arrived, including several seniors who pushed hard in the fall semester to finish their degrees and open up spots for newcomers. His academic plan also serves the returning players, aiming to have them at the finish line of a degree by the time they play their last football game at Tennessee.
"Our philosophy is that our players graduate between three and a half and four years," Jones said. If they have a fifth year of eligibility and do elect to come back, they can work on their master's degree. That's all about winning in the classroom. If they have the opportunity to leave early and go to the National Football League, the most important thing you can have is a college degree."
Moving forward, the process for the players will begin anew when they return in January. Jones had the players evaluated physically before they left for the holiday break and will do so again when they return to gauge the progress away from campus. Jones said every moment is important for the program.
"There are no quick fixes," he said. "We are going to do things right and great things will happen. It starts with your foundation of excellence, your standard of expectations, your culture. Every single day is critical in the evolution of Team 118."