Defensive tackle Justin Harrell (ruptured bicep) and cornerback Inquoris Johnson (nerve damage) suffered season-ending injuries last Saturday vs. Air Force. To honor them, head coach Phillip Fulmer suggested putting three interlocking circles on each Vol helmet this week. Inside the middle circle will be a power T. Inside the others will be a 92 (Harrell's number) and a 29 (Johnson's number).
Fulmer said the gesture is designed "to basically represent the bond between each of us in this program."
Harrell's injury is minor enough that he should be able to play pro football next season. Johnson's injury is far more serious, although the extent of the damage remains a well-guarded secret. The reaction of defensive coordinator John Chavis to some Tuesday afternoon questions suggests the damage is VERY extensive.
When asked if he has visited Johnson, Chavis softly replied, "Every day."
When asked how Johnson is doing, the coordinator responded: "He's a trooper. He's very positive, very upbeat. He's doing well."
At this point, the coordinator's lip began to quiver. He clearly was struggling to regain his composure as he added: "It's tough for me to talk about it. If you could … I'd like not to."
Tennessee's players are emotionally charged, as well. Several say they want to win this game for "Inky," as he is affectionately known.
"I'm just going out there and dedicate this one to Inky," said Demetrice Morley, who will start at free safety due to the lineup shuffling caused by Johnson's absence. "He's in high spirits and he wishes us the best, so we should give this one to him."
Jonathan Wade, who has played the cornerback spot opposite Johnson the past two seasons, was visibly moved as he discussed a recent visit with his fallen teammate.
"He told us to stay strong for him," Wade said. "He told me he was OK; that was the biggest thing. Him opening his eyes, looking in my eyes and telling me he was OK was a pretty touching thing. The fact he feels he's OK allows us to feel he's OK."
Asked if the loss of Johnson and Harrell could provide a rallying point for the team, offensive tackle Arron Sears nodded emphatically.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "We've definitely got to play the season out in memory of those two guys."
If the Vols' focus is as intense as their pain, Florida may not stand a chance Saturday night.
Fulmer conceded that "grief" engulfed the team earlier this week. As coaches and players came to grips with the severity of Johnson's injury, however, the head man said some of the gloom began to lift.
"You still feel compassion," he said, "but you move on."
Minus Johnson and Harrell, the mood at practice has been dark but determined.
"We go to the practice field, practice hard and play the way they would want us to play," Wade said. "Inky and Justin are two very disciplined people you can count on snap after snap, day after day. You take that with you, think about how they would do it, and you almost feel like you're letting them down if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing.
"You take that attitude, go play and try to win."