This Saturday, the Tennessee Volunteers will honor an annual spring tradition. They will welcome fans from all over to Neyland Stadium for the Orange and White Game, where they will be treated to an early preview for the fall's team. This year, the hallowed stadium should be sold out.
Of course, the game is free, so there's no "selling out," but a packed house is a virtual duty.
The Vols recently received the commitment of their ninth player for 2014. Three-star wide receiver Lawrence Lee opted for Knoxville just a couple of days ago, perpetuating Tennessee's unprecedented recruiting momentum.
And it truly is unprecedented.
For the last 10 years at least, the Volunteers have never had more than four commitments at this point in the offseason. Butch Jones has nine. One of them, Jalen Hurd, is a surefire 5-star. Two others, Vic Wharton and Todd Kelly, Jr., are top-250 players whose passion for Tennessee is rivaled only by their intensity in recruiting fellow players.
But no one recruit should be singled out too much. Jones said himself after national signing day that he wanted to talk about all players that wanted to be Vols. If an average high school prospect wants to don the orange and white, then all Volunteers support him just like an elite prospect.
The success on the recruiting trail is even more impressive when you remember that Tennessee is coming off perhaps the worst three-year stretch in school history, including an epic embarrassment in Nashville at the end of the season. What's going to happen when the Vols get back on track in 2013?
Spring Practice Molds Players
From all accounts, the players are making tremendous strides and are being challenged. All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson has taken reps with the second team because the coaches know he has even more to give. They see him as an All-American candidate, and he's starting to buy-in, too.
The wide receiver unit has been ravaged with injury and attrition, but Pig Howard and Jason Croom have still impressed. Croom in particular is an exciting specimen with his enormous 6'5", 232-pound frame showing improvement since his freshman season.
(For reference, Calvin Johnson is 6'5", 236 pounds.)
The Vols have a coordinator in John Jancek who is the classic curmudgeon, which I personally love at the helm of a defense. He demands precise fundamentals and proper tackling. What a refreshing thought after the 2012 season.
Then there's kicker Michael Palardy, whose ups and downs on Rocky Top have been well documented. He's currently drilling field goals from all areas left and right, while having water sprayed in his face and music and other noises are being blasted.
The coach is recruiting and teaching. The players are learning and improving. It's the fans' turn.
Pack Neyland Stadium
This Saturday, April 20th, the Tennessee Volunteers need you at Neyland Stadium at 2:00 p.m. The upperclassmen haven't had the proper Big Orange experience, but the light is clearly at the end of the tunnel.
Show your support. Make the pilgrimage. Fill the stadium and give your team as much as they've given you.