Vols Look to Refocus Following First Loss of the Year
(utsports.com) KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Returning to the Anderson Training Center following its first loss of the season, the Tennessee Volunteers got back to work in preparation for the 2022 home finale at the end of the week against Missouri.
It was a gloomy afternoon of football in Athens, Georgia. Between the descending rain and a slower start than the Big Orange would have hoped, Tennessee’s vision of an unbeaten season went by the wayside. But, with lots left to play for and great optimism on the horizon, the team returned to the building energized and ready to build on some weaknesses that came to light Saturday afternoon.
“The energy in the building was good,” head coach Josh Heupel said, taking the podium Monday afternoon. “Were guys disappointed after the game? Yeah. If they weren’t, then we would have real issues. We had an opportunity, one, for them to go into the position meetings and unit meetings and just see the landscape from the coaches’ perspective. They had the chance to watch it with them. And then as a team too, just watch how the game unfolded and things that we did, that we can control the game and make it play out differently. That’s the great thing about this sport, is that you only get one opportunity. You play 10 times, it unfolds differently 10 times every time. For us, let’s go back and control what we can control, which is how we prepare, how we practice and how we go play this Saturday. As a competitor, you’re only as good as the next one. You guys have heard me say that. It’s true after a win and true after a loss. For us as a program, it’s time to get better.”
As said by Heupel today and all season long, each week provides an opportunity to get better and to grow. 1-0 every week, the team thinks. Just win that week. That is the same approach Tennessee has welcoming the Missouri Tigers to Rocky Top, with a little added meaning because it will be the final game at Neyland Stadium for a group of distinguished seniors.
“It’s unique in that you pause for five minutes before you go back in the tunnel. You get a chance to see your family, take it in one last time,” Heupel said on the festivities honoring seniors pregame. “Obviously, our appreciation as a program and our fans too, to recognize those guys, what they’ve meant, what they’ve done inside of our program. When you run back in, then you got to reset, and it’s got to be just about football for 60 minutes.”
“This is my last time in Neyland. It’s surreal, bittersweet,” quarterback Hendon Hooker said, looking to an emotional weekend for any ballplayer to run out of the T. “Very excited to see a lot of my family members there that haven’t had a chance to see me play since I was little or in high school. It’s going to be a day for the family and a day for the Vols to go out there and enjoy Neyland.”
Hooker’s impact has been widely felt in just two short years on Rocky Top. Fans and coaches alike see the way he leads and how guys rally around him, it is a special part of who he is and is derived from his elongated growth in college football.
“To put it into words, I think is really tough,” Heupel said on the impact Hooker had has on the Tennessee program. “He has been such a leader, such a dynamic play maker, he has been so consistent in the building. He is a huge part of the culture that we have from within the locker room and the ownership we have from within it. I don’t think anyone inside of our program—players, coaches, or our fans—would ever take anything from him for granted. He has had a huge impact, and excited to get back out there and play one more time in Neyland. We have a lot of football ahead of us, (excited) to continue to compete down the home stretch with him.”
Another impact player who has shown up in a big way this fall is LaTrell Bumphus. A Tennessee native, Bumphus has spent six years on Rocky Top, has battled through adversity, and through all his determination, is producing at a high level on UT’s talented defensive line.
“It’s going to be special for sure,” Bumphus said, speaking on his senior day. “It’s finally coming around. In the past, like you said, it’s probably like my third senior day. It’s kind of surreal, I’m going to just soak it all in, enjoy it with my family and try and just take it all in. Don’t let the moment go too fast. Take advantage of the time I got, because it will be the last time I’ll get to run through the T in Neyland Stadium.”
The Vols and Tigers are slated for a noon ET kickoff on CBS.