KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Monday’s first of two practice sessions began with the removal of four stripes of Tennessee football freshmen. As determined by the players staff defensive lineman Derek Barnett, running back Jalen Hurd, defensive back Emmanuel Moseley and tight end Ethan Wolf were the first four to have their black stripes taken off their helmets.
"That is the other exciting thing today," coach Butch Jones said.
"We have four individuals have their black stripes removed, newcomers in our football program: Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd, Emmanuel Moseley and Ethan Wolf.
“Those four individuals have earned the right to have their stripes taken off. It is something that they will remember forever in their Tennessee careers and when your peers elect to have your stripe taken off, that is a pretty big deal."
Jones emphasized the importance of how the newcomers to Tennessee and working hard and battling their older counterparts daily.
"It is an illustration to the rest of the younger players that you are competing against each and every day," said Jones. "Everything from your body language to your approach in the meeting rooms, the way you take the practice field, to your style of play is being evaluated."
Last season, now-sophomore Cameron Sutton was the first to have his stripe removed.
It was Aug. 8, 2013, before the eighth practice of training camp that cornerback Sutton had his black stripe removed.
Almost exactly a year later, Sutton had the chance to witness the moment for a new freshman who earned his respect, fellow defensive back Moseley
Prior to the 10th practice of this year’s preseason camp, Sutton watched as players had the honor of removing Moseley's black stripe. The veteran players must have good reasons to remove a newcomer's stripe and Sutton had plenty to say about his teammate.
"Making plays," Sutton said of Moseley’s honor.
"That's what we're all about in the backend. As a defensive unit, he's making plays. He's familiar with our defensive playbook, and he's just prepared for game day."
Sutton, who was a freshman starter, has had the opportunity to develop a relationship with Moseley and sees many of his own characteristics in the newcomer.
"He's a very competitive kid," Sutton said. "He's always in his notebook, always asking questions and he's very hardworking and competitive.
"We're always critiquing each other, and that's just part of building a relationship with each other both on the field and off the field."
FOOTBALL: LIVE IT, LIKE IT, LOVE IT
While speaking with the media today for the first time since 2013, receiver Alton “Pig” Howard made one thing clear; his time spent away from Tennessee's football team this spring proved to be a valuable lesson learned and this year is the start of a new chapter.
"If you love the game of football, then it'd be hard on any athlete," Howard said. "Just not playing football was the hard part. I learned that at the end of the day, adversity makes you stronger and regardless, you just get back up and keep pushing."
Conquering the adversity of self-discipline and focus while away from the field was just the beginning. With an influx of young, fresh talent and the installation of a new offensive playbook, the junior receiver needed to gel quickly with his receiver unit and demonstrate a positive change to his coaching staff.
"I was putting extra work in, watching more film, perfecting my craft, studying defenses and learning the mental aspect of the game more than the physical," said Howard. "Regardless of what happened last spring, the coaches have always stayed in touch with me. We communicated and I think our connection has been consistent."
Howard returned for summer workouts and began fall camp with a new attitude and emerging leadership, which he finally had an opportunity to showcase during Saturday night's scrimmage at Neyland Stadium. Howard made a spectacular play over his defender, diving backward to make a touchdown catch, and was immediately lifted up by his teammates.
"The coaches called the X's and O's, the quarterback made a great throw and I was just fortunate enough to make a great catch," added Howard. "It's a special time. The past is the past and at the end of the day, I think we're closer as a unit."
"Alton Howard has been extremely consistent in his approach from the summer now into training camp," Jones said. "The effort, the focus, the change in lifestyle, being more disciplined and enjoying being around. I think our players have done a great job of holding him to a high standard of accountability, but it really comes down to him. How much are you going to dedicate yourself to being the best person, best football player that you can be?"
Putting Saturday's scrimmage aside, Howard continues to follow the Vols’ motto of taking everything one day at a time, one snap at a time and one game at a time. And there's no doubt that his new lifestyle is now practiced with a newfound sense of appreciation.
"Yes, it's a lifestyle," Howard said. "I mean, you've got to live it, like it, love it. [Coach Jones] preaches on it each and every day and you know, some do and some don't. Regardless of it, you have to self-discipline yourself and the best take care of their body regardless of the aches and pains. You have to do stuff to prevent it, so it's a lifestyle.
"I live it, like it, love it," added Howard.
JACKSON TALKS HIS ABOUT HIS 5
One of the largest question marks heading into the Vols' football season is how Tennessee will replace all five of its starters from last year's offensive line.
One of the new starters, redshirt junior guard Marcus Jackson, says this year's group is looking forward to proving doubters wrong.
"Last year was very good, you know, we had a lot of NFL guys," Jackson said. "We're just making sure, because we're not as well-known and we're getting looked down upon, that we're being physical playing with a chip on our shoulder."
After redshirting last season, Jackson is especially ready to prove to critics that he is ready to be a starter on this offensive line.
"It's always a great feeling to go out there on the field, but I feel like I practice like it's a game. So, I'll be alright," he said. "I'm anticipating everything, but I'll be fine."
Jackson is also confident that the Vols will be getting a "good player" with either Jacob Gilliam or Dontavius Blair, who are battling for the starting left tackle job.
"Gilliam has been a guy that came here when he was, I think, a walk-on. He redshirted, he's made great strides, and he's a good tackle," Jackson said. "Blair is coming along too, as well. But he still needs to get better, just as all of us do. We all have things we need to improve on."
STILL ABLE TO MAKE AN IMPACT
When the talking about the running back position, the first names that come to mind are Marlin Lane and Hurd, but on occasion Devrin Young seems to be overlooked.
Entering his senior season, Young looks to make an impact for his hometown Vols.
"I just try to come out and help my team in any way that I can," Young said. "I try to make plays when the ball is in my hands. I just play football."
Young was moved to wide receiver last season after spending his first two seasons at running back, but his biggest impact has been as a kickoff return man. He currently sits at fourth place all-time in kickoff return yards with 1,263.
Young may not be the go-to-guy at running back, but his impact will be felt in the return game and could land him as the all-time leading return man for the Vols with just 591 more yards.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)