Will Vols fold 'em or hold 'em?

Although he conceded that last Saturday's 34-14 loss to Alabama left his players ''very disappointed,'' Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer sees signs that the Vols are ready to bounce back this Saturday at South Carolina.

''I see the resolve,'' he said. ''The only thing I know for sure is practice. Watching the film last night (Monday) I couldn't have asked for more from our guys. I was really encouraged by that. I could feel the energy and enthusiasm of our offensive football team.

''These kids have a lot of fight in them, a lot of pride in them. They know the banner they're carrying is real important to a lot of people -- most important to themselves and their team. They want to finish up on a very positive note.''

Senior offensive tackle Will Ofenhseusle concurred.

''I think everybody's excited, ready to get back out there on the practice field and go play this weekend,'' he said. ''You can either hold 'em or fold 'em right now, and I don't think anybody's folding. You've got to be mature, look at the big picture. This is what you work for for nine months.

''You can't say, 'We're 4-3 and Tennessee's never 4-3. We always win. What am I going to do? I'll wait till next year ... blah, blah, blah.' You say, 'Hey man, let's go play. For 13 or 14 of us, there isn't a next year.' A lot of guys have to grow up and realize it's now or never.''

One criticism of this Tennessee team (now 1-3 in SEC play) is that it often seems to lack direction. Ofenheusle shrugged when asked if the Vols have sufficient leadership.

''You can't go to a bookstore and buy a 'Leadership for Idiots' book,'' he said. ''It's something people aren't born with. You don't go to a three-day seminar and they tell you how to do it. It's a learning process, a growth process.''

Fulmer knows his coaching staff and his players are catching a lot of criticism this week. It comes with the territory when you're a high-profile program, he says.

''As much interest as people have in our program, you're kind of in the middle of a storm -- good or bad,'' he said. ''You're never as good as they say you are and you're never as bad as they say you are.''

How good or bad the Vols are will be a lot clearer following Saturday's game in Columbia.


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