Home for the holidays

Few experiences in life are more rewarding than being with your family and friends at the holidays. Being with your coaches and teammates at a bowl site just happens to be one of them.

No one understands this better than Tennessee defensive tackle Dan Williams. The Memphis native spent the holidays with his family as a redshirting freshman in 2005, when the Vols went 5-6 and missed out on bowl play. He spent the 2006 and 2007 holidays in Tampa, where the Vols played in the Outback Bowl back-to-back years. He was in Memphis last December, however, since the '08 Vols went 5-7 and got no bowl bid.

After spending two of the past four holiday seasons with friends and family and two with coaches and teammates, Williams admits that he much prefers the latter to the former.

Here's how he puts it: "I've been home for two Christmases in my career here and I tell the young guys 'You don't want to be home during that time. You might think it would be nice to be home with family ... but you'll be on the butt end of a lot of jokes during bowl season.'"

Coming off the 5-7 record in 2008, Tennessee needs to beat Vanderbilt this Saturday and Kentucky next Saturday to finish 7-5 in '09. That two-game improvement will underscore that the program is headed in the right direction. It also will earn Lane Kiffin's Vols a postseason bid.

"It's very important for us to go to a bowl to start the program back right," Williams said. "I think that's a big part of Coach Kiffin's plan. My job as a senior is to get these (younger) guys ready and make sure we win these last two games."

Otherwise, the Vols will spend the holidays in front of their television sets, watching OTHER teams play before national TV audiences. Williams knows from first-hand experience how frustrating that can be.

"I'd be home watching bowl games and I'd think, 'Man! We could beat these guys,'" he recalled. "I enjoy being home for Christmas but I'd much rather be at a bowl game."

Although Williams won't be back in 2010, he understands that the two weeks of additional practice a bowl bid brings will be a monumental boost to UT's football future.

"It means a lot," he said. "I know the coaches really need that time to make available for the young guys and the guys who will be returning to the team next year."

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