Future is now

Tennessee's football team needs for its seniors to step up this week so it can beat Penn State in Monday's Outback Bowl. The Vols also need for their younger players to step up so they can beat a few teams next year.

Unless you're playing for the national title, bowl workouts are as much about preparing for the future as they are about preparing for the present. No one understands this better than Tennessee's seniors. They know that these post-season practices provide a golden opportunity for younger players still looking to establish themselves.

Senior cornerback Jonathan Wade, for instance, recalls how much progress he made during bowl preparations in December of 2003 and December of 2004. He's hoping inexperienced Vol defensive backs such as Antonio Gaines, Ricardo Kemp, Marsalous Johnson, and Antonio Wardlow are doing the same this December. Those young ones need to start making a move now, rather than waiting until spring practice.

"It's very important," Wade says. "They won't understand HOW important until the games start next season, and they see how much they have or haven't come along."

It's a safe bet that some of the young Vols are making significant progress during bowl preparations. It's an equally safe that some of them are not. The former will be playing key roles next September. The latter will be watching from the sidelines.

As Wade put it: "When it's time for you to play, you have to be ready. If you're not, someone else will be."

Now overseeing his 14th bowl game, Vol head man Phillip Fulmer knows better than most how beneficial the additional practices can be to a program's future.

After noting that the senior leadership has been "outstanding," Fulmer added: "I'm looking to see other leadership grow. Who are going to be the guys of the future?

"The underclassmen have kind of been waiting around and letting the seniors do it or somebody else do it. I want to see those guys emerging here during this time as we get ready for Penn State."

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