Erik Ainge ''can't wait''

Freshman quarterback Erik Ainge sat in the midst of a dozen reporters Saturday morning, smiling nervously as he answered his first question as a Vol: How is <!--Default For Tennessee is to ignore-->Tennessee football different than he expected?

''So far, it's been great,'' he said. ''Just walking through the stadium with the pads on (for Picture Day), I was ready to put the helmet on and play. I can't wait. It's definitely been everything I thought it was going to be, PLUS SOME.''

A lanky 6-6, 200-pounder from Hillsboro, Ore., Ainge said he chose Tennessee partly because he wanted to play with and against the best college football has to offer.

''That's one of the reasons I came here -- to shine your star with the best athletes and best players in the country, and Tennessee is obviously one of those top teams, year in and year out,'' he said. ''I saw on TV the other day that us and Miami have put more people in the NFL recently than any other schools.''

Although Knoxville is a long way from Oregon, Ainge said the distance isn't a concern.

''Even if I was in Arizona or Ohio, it's still a plane trip away,'' he said. ''If you have to fly to get somewhere -- whether it's a 4 1/2 hour flight or a 2 hour flight -- you're still going to have to fly.''

Ainge admitted that his mother ''took it hard at first'' when he committed to the Vols but hastened to add: ''Once she came down here with my dad to move me in over the Fourth of July she fell in love with it, too, and she knew exactly why I came here.''

Asked if he was growing more nervous as the opening of practice approached, Ainge shook his head.

''If anything, I was more nervous coming in,'' he said. ''Going into practice, I'm really confident to start playing.''

Although Southern Cal won half of the national championship last season, Ainge said he's more impressed with Southeastern Conference football than Pac 10 ball.

''Pac 10 is good football but it's just different in the SEC,'' he said. ''With the exception of USC, it (Pac 10) is not quite as big time as the SEC. Coming in where there are 107,000 fans ... I attended the Vanderbilt game last and was blown out of my mind.

''I can't wait.''

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