The horn sounds. Orange and white-cladded athletes sprint in unison to rows stretching across finely manicured Bermuda.
Hip-hop music gets the juices flowing for 60-plus highly engineered Generation iY athletes, who leap in groups of two and three, bang shoulders and return to the surface.
It's not a version of calisthenics. It's not a requirement of any coach. It's the excitement of another day to improve their craft with one common goal — a championship.
The culture at Tennessee has changed. If we're being honest, it had nowhere to go but up after the worst stretch of football in over a century of the program's existence.
The man pegged by Tennessee director of athletics Dave Hart to get the bill-paying program back on track is Butch Jones.
From his initial press conference on Rocky Top in December 2012 to this one-on-one exclusive with InsideTennessee, the former Cincinnati coach has overseen a program just fighting to become bowl eligible to a TaxSlayer Bowl demolishing of Iowa, followed by an Outback Bowl drubbing of then-No. 13 Northwestern (by 39 points).
Is Tennessee football officially back? Can the Volunteers handle the pressure and expectations of a passionate fan base?
Read what Jones told IT about 2016 below:
InsideTennessee: How tough is this summer going to be? You guys know the expectations here this summer with so many kids showing up this May? Thinking back, this is probably the most expectation-laden team I can think of since 2003 or so. Over the summer months, people will get what I call ‘August Fever.’ You know, ‘If they’re not 11-1, somebody’s got to be fired,’ or 13-0 or something like that. How do you manage those over these next few months? Is it the same ‘bunker’ type mentality: ‘Don’t worry about all these guys saying you’re going to win the East and beat Florida, beat Georgia and be in the playoffs.’ Just how do you manage some of that?
Butch Jones: It gets back to the old philosophy of focusing on the process, the process of being better each and every day, being a better version of you, constantly growing. That's all clutter and distractions.
This football team has not accomplished one thing. The expectations are based upon last year's team, Team 119, and how that team finished. Every year is a new year — there's new leadership, there's new opportunities for growth and development, people are in new roles, some key roles where last year maybe they were more of a special teams performer, some individuals will grow into key performer roles on special teams. So every team is different. But you have to focus on the things you can control. Those are all uncontrollable factors. Those are all variables.
What we have to do is focus on the task at hand and embrace it. We work very hard, embrace it but also understand — and I think last year's team learned that — everybody is going to bring their ‘A’ game, everybody is going to play well against you now. You're not just somebody's homecoming game. They're going to respect you, and you are going to get their ‘A’ game. That was the thing that I tried to get through last year’s team, ‘Hey, we’re a different football program now.’ I think when you look at it being 13-5 in our last 18 games and all that, I think there's a respect factor that comes with it but you have to earn that respect every day. You have to deserve victory every day. The only way you deserve it is you roll your sleeves up and you go to work every day. There is no day off. You've got to live it every day and you've got to work to be great at your skill set. You have to have that inner drive. I think it's everybody really being accountable for their self determination and for each other.
That's all clutter and noise. We just have to focus on the task at hand and that's us.
IT: We spoke to some people at Bristol Motor Speedway about how ticket sales are going. It sounds like it is going to be at least 150,000-plus. Do you handle that any differently? I'm guessing you are going to have the largest crowd in the history of Earth to watch a football game. I know you don't want to look past Appalachian State or anybody, but is there anything you do to get the kids ready for something like that? You play in front of six figures here at Tennessee. But another 50,000?
Jones: No, I don't think so. Again, and you just said it, we are playing a game against a football program that's won 17 out of their last 19 games in Appalachian State. All our focus is on becoming a better football team every day, getting our strength and explosion up, our fundamentals, our details, our leadership and App State and getting ready for training camp.
We’ll be ready for Virginia Tech but, again, it is following the process and making sure that we are focused in the right places where our focus needs to be.
We've had a lot of players grow up in this program now. How do you handle the expectations? How do you follow the process? How do you maintain your focus, your self-determination? How do you motivate yourself intrinsically? What's the internal drive? The internal place? I think our maturity now will come into play. Like I said, we've had a number of individuals grow within this program. They know the standards, they know the expectations.
IT: I know it's in the early stages of Team 120 and a good portion of them with a lot of talent like (Tyler) Byrd and (Nigel) Warrior haven't shown up yet. But, from what you have seen already, what's the biggest difference between Team 120 and Team 117?
Jones: I think continued growth and development at all nine position groups. We are still nowhere near where we need to be from a competitive depth standpoint — that takes years to develop. But I think we are closer than we have ever been. You look at our secondary; there should be great competition there. We need to find out who our No. 2 corner is going to be. No individual stepped up this spring and took hold of the other corner beside Cam Sutton, so who is that individual going to be? Is it going to be maybe Nigel Warrior playing corner? We will see.
But I think we have more depth across the board than we have, which should lend for a very competitive training camp and a competitive offseason in the summer months.
Read more from our exclusive interview with Butch Jones. Check out Part I by clicking here.