"The players that are leading this team and the coaches that we have wouldn't allow the attitude to be like '05," senior quarterback Erik Ainge said. "I can't tell you we're going to win the next nine games in a row and be 10-2. You don't know that. But I know we're going to be as prepared as we can and play as hard as we can and as smart as we can."
The Vols lost more than games in 2005. They lost their poise, their confidence and their camaraderie. Morale grew worse as the record did. Soon the season was spiraling out of control. Could a similar attitude be developing within the '07 team?
"The positive leadership on this team and the selflessness of the older, better players I think will go a long way to prevent that from being the attitude," Ainge said. "I can't say just because we have better leadership than in '05 we'll win more games. You never know that. But the leadership will be better, for sure."
Tennessee won three of its first four games in 2005 before imploding. The Vols dropped four games in a row and later fell to Vanderbilt for the first time in more than two decades. Like Ainge, junior guard Anthony Parker thinks the team leadership was insufficient to pull the '05 team out of its nosedive.
"We had a couple of losses, and you could see the difference," he said. "We had a couple of guys who became selfish, worried about themselves. It was just a bad environment to be around. People were not so much focused on the team but more on themselves."
Parker and Ainge are determined that the '07 season will not crumble the way the '05 season did. That's why they were among the veterans who met prior to Monday's practice to discuss the need to avert a 2005 replay.
"We can't let that happen," Parker said. "We had some older guys meet and talk about it ... me, Erik Ainge, Xavier Mitchell, Arian Foster, Antonio Reynolds, Eric Young, Ramon Foster, Jerod Mayo and probably a couple more."
The 2007 Vols lack experience at some positions and lack SEC-level talent at others. Ainge seems to understand this. That's why he's pushing himself to be the best he can be and pleading with his teammates to do the same.
"I can control what this offense does, what I do with my decision-making, how well I throw the football and my toughness," he said. "I can't control anything else that happens. That's the attitude we're taking.
"You take a look in the mirror and say, ‘What do you need to do better?' Everybody on this football team – coaches and players included – always has something they can improve on. Practice is THAT much more important now. Film study is THAT much more important now because we need to get better as fast as we can."
Perhaps the 2005 nightmare is fresh enough in the minds of Tennessee's upperclassmen that it can help the 2007 Vols avoid a replay.
"I'd never been around anything like that," Parker recalled. "When I was in high school we lost a total of six games. To lose six games in one season ... I was surprised. It had me down. I was a freshman then. I can't let that happen now that I'm a junior and a leader."
In an effort to get the Vols back on the right track, Parker has become more vocal. He's trying to rally the team's young players before it's too late.
"Maybe they'll listen," he said. "Maybe they won't. Who really knows? But that's my role now, and I believe they will listen and follow behind, so I've got to do the best I can to get them to follow behind."