KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee's six legacy freshmen spoke with the media for the first time as Vols on Friday afternoon as Dillon Bates, Elliott Berry, Evan Berry, Neiko Creamer, Todd Kelly, Jr. and Vic Wharton talked about wearing the Orange & White.
STAYING CLOSE TO HOME
Despite all six freshmen having fathers or an uncle, in Vic Wharton's case, only one grew up in Knoxville. Todd Kelly, Jr., takes a lot of pride in being a homegrown talent and having the chance to play college football in his backyard.
"I am the only local guy in the class," said Kelly, who starred at The Webb School. "It is pretty cool, just going around, going to different restaurants and hearing my name and things of that nature. I went to school about 30 minutes away so I wasn't far, I got to come to all the home games last year."
One of the benefits of playing close to home, is that his parents are just a few moments away, something that is special to Kelly.
"It was a pretty cool," he said. "Ultimately my dad is right up the street so whenever I need to talk to him or need support he is always going to be there for me."
PLAYING IN HONOR
In honor of former Volunteer defensive back Inky Johnson, legacy freshman Evan Berry will wear the No. 29 jersey. Berry, also a defensive back, believes he will best embody the true meaning of representing No. 29.
On Sept. 9, 2006, Johnson suffered a career-ending injury in Neyland Stadium. Despite his inability to physically play football, Johnson continues to motivate both former and current Vols through inspirational messages.
"I think every day people would love to be in my shoes right now, to be playing at the University of Tennessee," Berry said.
With high expectations of himself as a true freshman, Berry's enthusiasm to honor Johnson has impressed many around him.
"Just to show my respect for him, I didn't want anyone wearing that number and not really know the meaning behind that number, so I decided to take that number and wear it and represent it," Berry explained.
Alongside his brother, Elliott Berry will also honor a former Vol.
Elliott will wear the No. 41, the inverse of No. 14, to represent his older brother and All-Pro Kansas City safety Eric Berry. Eric played for Tennessee for 2007-2009, garnering All-American honors.
STRENGTH & SPEED ON THE RISE
Five of the six legacy freshmen joined the Vols during summer school. A key component of their regiments since arriving in Knoxville has been strength and conditioning under the supervision of Dave Lawson. The Vols' staff continues to push the Vols to new limits in the weight room and with agility and quickness. The Vols are hoping to see the results with Team 118.
"I have added about 10 or 15 pounds just being here for a few months," said linebacker Dillon Bates, who said he now weighs 232 pounds. "That is all credit to the strength coaches and hard work. It really is a great program they have us in. Coach Lawson is doing a great job. We will be working hard in the weight room then running on the field. We are also getting recovery right and the nutrition bar. We definitely have a formula for success."
Todd Kelly, Jr., has seen changes in his body which he hopes allows him to contribute right away.
"I know they play a lot of freshmen on special teams, but ultimately where ever they put me I am just going to go out there and give it all my all," said Kelly. "Right now I am weigh 203 pounds, they put that on me pretty quick and I have been able to keep my speed up as well. So I have enjoyed it but wherever they put me that is where I am going to play.
Vic Wharton has been surprised with the immediate impact the strength staff has made on his physique.
"I wasn't expecting it to be so challenging but I'm happy that it is," he said. "I don't think there's a better strength coach in the country other than Coach Lawson. I just feel that my gains have been tremendous and I never expected to be as strong as I am now."
FROM LITTLE LEAGUE TO POWER T
Representing the Volunteer state among the six legacy freshmen, Tennessee natives Todd Kelly and Vic Wharton are not unfamiliar with sharing the same field. While growing up in the Greater Knoxville and Nashville areas, Kelly and Wharton played on the same Little League football team and had just as much chemistry and bond then as they're anticipated to have for the Vols.
"We called ourselves the `Dynamic Duo' back in the day," said Kelly. "Our team went down to Atlanta to play. We didn't end up getting to play the Berry brothers but they were in the same tournament."
Despite moving on to attended different high schools, Kelly and Wharton's competitive roots began at an early age together. Now within reach of their lifelong dreams at UT, the two freshmen have quickly resumed their friendly competitions while continuing to push each other.
"I always say that I am better and he always says he is better," added Wharton.
Here are sound bites from the legacy freshman
»(On what it has been like getting to campus early)
"It's been great coming in early in May and having time to adjust to things, getting in class, and start workouts. We are working every day to get better. We are doing everything we can to win this season."
» (On added pressure of being a legacy)
"There is not any added pressure. It is more about everyone knowing what they have to do. Everyone knows that you have to go every day and go as hard as we can. We have to stay later in meetings and stay later in the classroom."
DEFENSIVE BACK ELLIOTT BERRY
»(On what Eric said he loved most about UT)
"He just talked about how much he loved the fans here. It's one of those things that when you explain why you like a place it's kind of hard to talk about. It's one of those things that you just know. You can't really put words to it."
»(On what's the best thing he does on the field)
""I feel like I bring great versatility to the game. I feel I can do things that not too many people can do. I just feel like I give Coach Jancek the flexibility to do different things."
DEFENSIVE BACK EVAN BERRY
»(On what it is like playing the same sport with a twin)
"Playing a sport with a twin is always good because at all times you know someone will have your back. It's a great feeling to be able to share your accomplishments with someone and always having someone close to you."
»(On an upperclassmen who has taken him under his wing)
""Curt Maggitt has done a really good job of showing me around and making me feel at home as much as possible. With the new coaching staff and especially Coach Jones, he actually requires the upperclassmen to take care of the underclassmen to make sure everything is going alright.".
» (on the college experience)
"I've been here since January. I came in early. This college experience has been going well so far. As far as I'm concerned, it's different than high school of course. School, football, it's all going well. Time management is a major thing that you have to apply yourself to, but other than that college is going well."
» (On the transition to linebacker)
"The transition was smooth, especially after the first week of getting used to being on the other side of the ball. My body can withstand any position so I know the coaches know what they're doing. I'm used to playing receiver but the linebacker transition was smooth, especially with my position coach, Coach Thigpen. He's a very good coach."
DEFENSIVE BACK TODD KELLY JR.
» (On his goals for the season)
"Just to get better each and every day. I have learned so much since I have been here, the older guys have done such a great job taking in the freshmen and making sure that we know everything we are supposed to know and doing everything we are supposed to do. Just taking it day by day and learning the process."
» (On the older guys advice)
"They just told me to be excited, give it everything I have and have an open mind because so much is going to be thrown at me. But I have learned and taken that in. The older guys, like I said before, have been doing a great job of doing the same."
WIDE RECEIVER VIC WHARTON
» (On witnessing the freshmen legacy's dreams become reality)
It's great. I mean, we couldn't have asked for a better class. Our entire class gets along great, I mean, there's no flaws in the class. I just can't believe that we're all finally here you know with this class that we dreamed of having. Me and Coach Jones, communicating with him, being the first commit and we're finally here.
» (On his college experience so far)
"It's been great you know, classes. We had the first summer session and we have one class this session on top of that with the workouts. And me playing receiver with Coach Azzanni , you know, I've had some guys come and take me under their wing such as Josh Smith and Marques North and those guys. The adjustment has been easy just because those guys have been making it easy."
FEATURE: A Legacy Realized
By Brian Rice
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Their bonds to the University of Tennessee run along family lines, and now the "Legacy Class" is together on campus, beginning to solidify their bond as a football family.
Dillon Bates, Elliott Berry, Evan Berry, Neiko Creamer, Todd Kelly, Jr. and Vic Wharton have had a long build-up to becoming Volunteers, now the road to kickoff is within sight and the common thread that helped bring them all to UT is providing the motivation to get them ready for day one for Team 118
"I met these guys through camps and it was great, especially when we were all still trying to figure out where we were going to school," Creamer said of he and his five teammates, who spoke to the media for the first time on Friday afternoon at the Anderson Training Center. "We had that one common domain that was the University of Tennessee.
Wharton was the first "Brick" in the class, his commitment a Christmas Day gift to Jones in his first month on the job as head coach of the Volunteers. From that day, the nephew of former Vol basketball player Brandon Wharton helped Jones and his staff recruit his new classmates, including his fellow legacy players. Now Wharton is on campus, realizing a dream that started over a decade ago and became an even stronger reality on Christmas 2012.
"It's great just to be here finally," Wharton said. "I've been waiting for this my whole life, seeing my uncle, growing up a Tennessee fan, watching him play. It's surreal, really. I'm trying to adjust to everything and enjoying my time so far."
Elliott and Evan Berry were even more connected. The twins always planned to attend the same school, and with the ties to their father James and older brother Eric, Tennessee seemed like a natural landing spot. But the brothers took their time in the recruiting process, wanting to be sure the emotional attachment they had always had to UT meant that it was their best place for their college careers.
"I always felt like I was coming to Tennessee," Elliott Berry said. "I just wanted to be make sure that I was 100% that this was where I wanted to be."
Eric Berry’s sales pitch for his brothers was simple.
"That this was the greatest place on Earth," Elliott Berry said of his brother's thought on Tennessee. "And I agree, I love Knoxville. He loved the fans here. When you explain why you love a place, it's hard to talk about. You just know. You can't really put words to it."
Evan Berry said the expectations that the family's name brings to he and Elliott isn't a burden. In fact, it's the opposite.
"I embraced it," he said. "It's always good to have a milestone in front of you and goals ahead of you, especially made by your family members."
Dillon Bates knew his father Bill was a Vol legend, but the elder Bates never pushed his son to UT. A hurricane did it for him. Hurricane Frances forced the Bates family to evacuate their Florida home in 2004, sending the family to East Tennessee just in time for the 2004 opener against UNLV, a game played on a Sunday night, just as the first of Dillon's career will be.
It was his first time in Neyland Stadium, beginning a love affair with football and with Tennessee that lasted through his college decision.
"Seeing my dad's name everywhere, it stuck with me that this is something I want to do and this is somewhere that I want to be, somewhere I fell in love with," Bates said. "I'm happy to be here, this is where I wanted to be."
Kelly was a childhood friend of Wharton growing up in Knoxville and they maintained their relationship after Wharton moved to Spring Hill. Partly thanks to his friend's urging, Kelly committed early on in the process and set out to build communication with his future teammates.
"I'm rooming with Dillon and we've been talking for a year before we even got here," Kelly said when asked for an example of the communication between the members of the class. "We're finally all here and we're well-connected like we've been here for a while."
Wharton said the camaraderie that helped to build the recruiting class has made them into a strong freshman class.
"It's great, he said of the time spent together since arriving on campus. "We couldn't ask for a better class, our entire class gets along great. I can't believe that we're all finally here, this class that we all dreamed of having."
Elliott Berry says that dream doesn't end with them just being here together. It ends with them bringing Tennessee to the next level.
"Tennessee has always been close to all of our hearts," he said. "The fact that we're in the position and have the opportunity to put Tennessee back at the top, it's a big deal to me."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)