Vols ready to return focus back to football field

Tennessee has gotten plenty of attention in the past eight

months for off-the-field news. The Volunteers are hoping to prove

that none of it will keep them from being successful on the

field.

”We know how hard we worked this summer, so I think it’s going

to be a good time for us to get out there and show everybody how

hard we’ve been working and how dedicated we are to Tennessee,”

senior defensive end Chris Walker said.

The Vols have been eagerly awaiting Saturday’s season opener

against Tennessee-Martin because it means the fans’ focus will be

back on football. All the talk surrounding the Vols from January

through August has been about former coach Lane Kiffin’s hasty

departure from Tennessee – the Vols’ second coaching change in as

many seasons – and the July bar brawl that led to one player’s

dismissal and two others’ suspensions.

If anything, the program’s offseason turmoil has helped foster

more team chemistry for the 2010 season, senior linebacker Nick

Reveiz said.

”I feel like it’s brought us closer as a team,” Reveiz said.

”We’ve had so much turnover and change, the only guys we could

really look at or rely on were the players … therefore we bonded

closer as a team, and I really feel like we’ve created a team

chemistry.”

The coaching turnover and player arrests could have done just

the opposite by tearing the team apart, first-year coach Derek

Dooley said. But the Vols have shown resiliency after every bit of

adversity they’ve faced in recent years, from following up a 5-7

season and coach Phillip Fulmer’s firing in 2008 with a 7-6 season

in 2009 to being completely dedicated to fall camp after the

embarrassment of the bar brawl.

Dooley’s hope is that his players’ resiliency will continue to

translate to good things on the field.

”I hope that what it does prepare them for is when it gets a

little tough out there – which it will – that we stay together and

we support each other and we play out of it, just like the kids

have done with every little piece of adversity that’s hit them in

the past couple of years,” the coach said.

The Vols didn’t immediately warm to Dooley’s leadership when he

was hired in January, having just been jilted by Kiffin, Reveiz

said. But Dooley has earned their respect over the course of the

offseason, especially thanks to the way he handled the discipline

problems and prepared the team, despite major depth issues.

”He’s really taken care of us as far as off-the-field issues

and as far as on-the-field issues. He’s really been there for us,”

Reveiz said. ”We’re going to stay together as a team, and we’re

going to support coach Dooley.”

A number of players opted to leave Tennessee after both Fulmer’s

firing and Kiffin’s departure, leaving only 76 scholarship players

on the team after Dooley awarded scholarships to a couple of

walk-on players.

Dooley and his players have acknowledged many times that the

lack of depth could cause Tennessee to struggle. Still, Reveiz says

he wouldn’t trade in the team’s difficult times of late just to

have a full roster.

”It’s hard not to say you’re not worried, but you realize that

you’d rather do it with a smaller group of guys who are doing it

the right way than a bigger group of guys that are doing it the

wrong way,” he said. ”I really believe we’re doing it the right

way as far as off the field and on the field.

”I can make a commitment to the community that we’re trying to

make Vol nation proud and we’re working as hard as we extremely

can. I wouldn’t trade these guys for anybody.”