Tennessee won't be missing any players in the Outback Bowl come January due to grade issues.
Butch Jones announced Saturday that everyone on the team will be academically eligible for Tennessee's tilt with Northwestern in Tampa Jan. 1, and Tennessee set a record for this point in the fall semester with a 2.77 cumulative GPA.
"Everyone is bowl eligible, which is a compliment to them and a compliment to the Thornton Center," Butch Jones said. "When we play Jan. 1, we will have 18 college graduates on the field of play, which we are very very proud of. Then when you look at having 57 individuals who are Vol Scholars with a 3.0 in your football program, we set the record for the highest cumulative GPA at 2.77 ... They have done a great job academically. We have a standard, we have an expectation here and it continues to get better and better."
Jones attributes the academic success in part to his team's detailed sports science department, which focuses on school along with nutrition, strength training and what the third-year Tennessee coach refers to as "football life."
"The academic component of the sports science (department) is the most important," Jones said. "It's all about excelling in the classroom. If you think about it, you need your rest. You need your nutrition. You need all of that for your ability to concentrate on a daily basis ... But I think most importantly, when you put together a sports science department, is all that getting together in having one voice, one philosophy."
Aaron Medley knew he had to change something after an 0-for-3 performance against Alabama, a game Tennessee lost by just four points and the low mark of the season for the sophomore kicker who began the season with some turbulence. The performance made Medley look inside himself to see what he was doing wrong, and it turns out it wasn't anything mechanically.
"Any day you go 0-for-3, it's not technical," Medley said. "I've been doing this my whole life, so I had to work on my mental game. You come in Monday and go back to work. I see it as a challenge. Each and every week is a challenge. Going through a season, you're going to face adversity and you have to learn how to overcome it."
Medley did just that, rebounding from that abysmal performance to end the season 11-for-12 while connecting on all 49 extra point attempts. The problems he experienced early had much to do with his intensity when he was on the sideline, which hurt his on-field performance.
"Just getting into the game too much," Medley said. "The third down for what (chant), looking at the defense and offense and looking at how they're doing. I just kind of took myself out of the games when I wasn't out there."
Drew Richmond finally earned the right to have the black stripe removed from his helmet this week, but it didn't come from his fellow offensive linemen. The former Scout five-star, who is redshirting this season, received the honor from the players he goes up against in practice every day.
"The defensive line actually took his stripe off (Friday)," Jones said. "I think that's quite a compliment coming from them because he goes against them every day in scout (team). I seem him progressing."
Jones called the experience Richmond and the rest of the redshirt players are getting during these 15 allotted practices "invaluable", as they prepare to make an impact next season.
"His whole mentality, the way he approaches practice (has improved)," Jones said. "The offensive line was going to take his stripe off but the defense beat him to it. He continues to get better, and also you see a level of confidence continue to grow in him as well."
If playing football doesn't work out for senior defensive standout Curt Maggitt, he has a job waiting for him with Butch Jones. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker, who was lost for the season with a bone chip in his hip, has used his absence on the field to serve as an instrumental part of the defense in the film room.
"If he ever decides he wants to be a coach, we'll hire him here at Tennessee," Jones said. "He just brings so much to the table: his ability to communicate, his effectiveness in communication. He has the respect of our players and they listen to everything he says. He's done a great job of really mentoring."