With the Big Orange sporting a 3-5 overall record and a dismal 0-5 SEC mark, Bartholomew is determined that his younger teammates don't quit, as some Vols did late last season. He believes the program's other seniors feel the same way.
"Definitely," he said following Monday's practice. "I think all of the seniors are kind of stepping up into leadership roles. We're telling the guys, 'This is our last year. If you're going to play for anything, play for us.'"
Senior offensive lineman Dallas Thomas added a hearty amen to that.
"Yeah, of course," he said. "We did it for the seniors the year before last, and that's what we want (Tennessee teams) to keep on doing."
This senior class deserves to go out on a positive note based on how heroically it performed in last Saturday's 38-35 loss at South Carolina. Bartholomew blocked like a man possessed. Thomas helped limit a ferocious Gamecocks pass rush to one sack. Senior linebacker Herman Lathers posted a career-best 15 tackles, with an interception and a sack. Senior wideout Zach Rogers posted or matched career highs for catches (6), yards (107) and touchdowns (3). Senior tight end Mychal Rivera made three receptions for 44 yards, including a touchdown.
|Wide receiver Zach Rogers and the Vol seniors plan on finishing their college careers on a high note.|
"We know we have a bowl game to play for, and that's what we're trying to do," Lathers said. "We're just trying to motivate this team. Things are not going our way but we know where the mistakes are coming in and why they're not going our way. Our main job is to encourage those (younger) guys and get them to eliminate the big plays, eliminate the busts, and you'll be right where you want to be."
The 2011 Vols infuriated their fan base by tanking down the stretch. They bailed in a 49-7 Game 10 loss at Arkansas and again in a 10-7 loss at Kentucky in the season finale. Thomas says there's no way the 2012 team will stop fighting.
"Oh, no. That's one thing that we don't do," he said. "That's one thing I take personally. We (seniors) will make sure guys don't quit."
Reminded that several players gave minimal effort last November, Thomas conceded the point but promised that it won't happen again.
"The leadership is way different than last year," he said. "More guys are vocal, and the young guys are starting to follow the seniors. They're learning from us. The guys are not just giving up like they did last year."
Although many disgruntled fans are ripping the coaching staff and players, the Vols say they are determined to ignore the negativity and continue giving 100 percent on every play.
"Oh, yeah," Thomas said, "because we know we can still get the job done and, hopefully, make it to a bowl game this year.... The (older) guys are keeping everybody focused. It's like, 'Don't worry about what's going on. Just focus on this one game, then the next one and the next one.'"
Although the 2012 season has been a flop to date, Tennessee's players believe a 4-0 finish will soothe some of the disappointment they feel.
"These last four games are really important," Bartholomew said. "Right now we're really focused on Troy. To get a four-game winning streak to end the year you've got to start off with the first one."
Although Tennessee's fan base is discouraged, Tennessee's players seem to be reasonably upbeat. They saw positive signs in last Saturday's 38-35 loss at South Carolina.
"I think we're capitalizing on what we did well, and I think we did a lot of things well," Bartholomew said. "We're just correcting our mistakes. If we just keep playing our offense and playing well, I think we're going to come out with a bunch of Ws."
Hear more from Lathers and Thomas in the video interviews below: