A different kind of energy at Tennessee

Saturday's student-based practice was an example of how Butch Jones likes to cater to Tennessee's fans. It's also a microcosm of the direction he's taking the Vols as they wrap up a productive spring.

Alivn Kamara couldn’t wipe the huge grin he kept flashing off his face when he exited the field at Neyland Stadium Saturday. After all, he had just practiced in front of more fans than he played against all last year in junior college.

“Not everybody gets to do this,” Kamara said. “Not everybody gets this chance that we get to play in front of some of the best fans in the country. Just being out here and competing against my teammates and in front of these fans, it’s amazing.”

The Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College transfer didn’t have to learn how to appreciate moments like the one he saw Saturday, when hundreds of Tennessee students filed into Neyland Stadium to watch practice for Student Appreciation Day.

A different type of atmosphere permeated throughout the practice session, one that coach Butch Jones has been zealously trying to instill.

Students lined the field at the end of the session to watch wide receiver Josh Malone run the 40-yard-dash. They laughed as offensive lineman Kyler Kerbyson danced around them while music blasted from the speakers. They even got a chance to participate, as the team let some of them join the quarterback battle to see who could hit the field goal crossbar with a pass.

As Jones worked the microphone with the presence of an award host and roast master, one thing was evident — this new energy has encapsulated Tennessee.

It’s nearly impossible to imagine a Johnny Majors practice with students dancing to the music of an on-field DJ while standing feet from the players, acting as personal crowd noise for the defense. Yet that’s the direction college football and Butch Jones himself have taken to embrace this modern approach to the game.

“A big thank you to our student body,” Jones said after practice. “At most universities student attendance is down, but at Tennessee, ours is up. We talk about all being in it together, so to be able to share the day with them, I know it was rewarding not just for our coaching staff, but for our players as well."

Linebacker Dillon Bates agreed. He’s experienced first-hand the raucousness of a Tennessee game day and believes reaching out to the students is the way to bridge the player-fan gap that has narrowed with social media and the increased platforms from which fans are able to get their information.

“It’s always a great atmosphere when you step into Neyland, and to have a few fans come out to show what a great student section this school has (is nice),” Bates said. “It’s amazing to see a couple hundred, maybe a thousand, fans come out.”

Jones knows how important it is to connect with past, present and future Vols, and Saturday’s student-based practice was just another example of that. Whether it’s playing music on the field, letting the students get a couple of passes in during practice or giving them a way to see their team live in the spring, it’s clear what his mission is.

Butch Jones is trying to make the program’s motto more than just a saying.

"It means everything because it's all about One Tennessee, and it's all about our student body, which is so supportive like everyone else," he said after practice. "To be able to have a day like this, it is rewarding for everyone involved."

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Ethan Wolf on spring practice

Cam Sutton on the defense

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