Vols changed course in 2002

Seven games into the 2002 football season, the Tennessee Vols had to reset their goals. Having lost three games, their national ranking and their SEC title hopes, the Big Orange had to lower its expectations and refocus.

''At first it was a little tough,'' linebacker Keyon Whiteside recalls. ''We came into the season with a No. 4 or 5 ranking. Obviously, we thought we had a great team with a chance to do really good things at the end of the season. Unfortunately, we got a lot of injuries, especially on defense. But to finish up the way we finish up -- winning four of the last five -- we're building on that. To start like we did and finish like we're going to, hopefully, says a lot for us.''

If Tennessee can beat Maryland New Year's eve in the Peach Bowl, it will close the season 5-1 to finish 9-4 overall. That might enable the Vols to sneak back into the top 25. Although the players ultimately sparked the turnaround, head coach Phillip Fulmer deserves some of the credit. His steady hand kept the ship from sinking when it sprung early-season leaks.

''He played a big role,'' Whiteside said. ''He's the head man on the ship. Without him, none of this would've been possible. For him to pull everything together and not let it fall ... Some teams could've folded the tent and walked away but he did a good job of keeping the team focused and everything else he could do to pull off a decent season.''

Once Tennessee dropped out of SEC title contention, Fulmer emphasized the need to play for pride and the future of the program.

''He just let us know that we're still Tennessee,'' Whiteside said. ''Every time we walk on the field we're playing for pride. You want to give back to the guys who went before you. The pride means a lot to us ... to go out and represent Tennessee. We tried to win the rest of the games we had, to make a strong foundation for next year's team.''


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