KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vic Wharton has been impressive in every way during his time at the University of Tennessee.
What started as the first commitment that Butch Jones received as head coach at UT on Christmas Day, 2012, and continued as Wharton spent the next year helping the Vols assemble a top-5 recruiting class by getting his fellow legacy players in orange has continued to manifest itself on the practice field through summer workouts and in the opening days of fall camp.
Wharton's on-field contributions have impressed wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, quite the task considering the laundry list of talented receivers he's had under his tutelage in previous stops at Wisconsin, Florida and Central Michigan, among others.
"I've been doing this a long time and as far as habits, how we do things, I have not ever had a freshman come in and have a first day practice, second day practice like Vic Wharton had," Azzanni said. "He's done really well, I'm really happy with Vic."
Azzanni knows talent at the position when he sees it. His list of pupils includes Brian Anderson and Antonio Brown at Central Michigan, a duo that combined for 49 touchdowns and over 6,500 career yards. Brown went on to start for the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV and was a Pro Bowl selection the following season in 2011.
Wharton knew what Azzanni's expectations would be coming in, knowing the history of wideouts he had coached and the legacy of playing at Wide Receiver U.
"That's just our mindset being receivers, always being competitive," Wharton said after the first day in pads. "It's a fight every day. That's what Coach Z teaches, and that's what every receiver always does. You can't be part of WRU without being competitive."
What he sees in Wharton is the attitude and effort to be the best, even this early in the process.
"He's a great kid, he has a great mentality, he doesn't get down," Azzanni said. "I can get on his rear end, he likes hard coaching, he wants to get better. He's had a really good three days."
Wharton understood Azzanni's mentality immediately thanks to some veteran teammates.
"I would say our older guys this summer," said Wharton in reference to understanding his style. "They did a great job taking me under their wing. All of the receivers did, not just one guy, just every single one of them did. Just having me come in, it has just been awesome being able to learn from them and just learn everything that Coach Z wanted just by being here this summer."
There was no way to sugar-coat Monday's practice. As Head Coach Butch Jones informed the media, he didn't feel any players had earned the right to represent the University of Tennessee following their practice performance. Today was a different tune.
"I saw it at 7:30 a.m. this morning in meeting," said Jones. "They were focused and interactive. I liked their overall approach today. It was a great practice in some heat and our guys responded. I was pleased with the way they fought through it and attacked the day."
In the team's first day of full pads, senior running back/receiverDevrin Young also noticed the change in atmosphere while giving praise to Jones for being a true leader.
"Everything that Coach Jones says, we take to heart because we know that he's speaking from the heart," said Young. "We know that he cares about us and he wants us to win. Guys came out full speed. Everybody was hitting, everybody was making plays on both sides of the ball and turned things around today."
Yesterday's post-practice speech also hit home for the underclassmen, many of whom are being exposed to the standards that come with representing the University of Tennessee not only in the eyes of Coach Jones, but their senior teammates as well.
"Some of the younger players know that they're going to have to play and they're going to have to perform at a high level really early for us," said Young. "There are not a lot of veterans but at the same time, everybody is close. The older guys are helping the younger guys and everybody is sticking together. Yeah, there's a difference in age and experience but we're all in this together. That's just our focus."
30 POUNDS LATER, MOSELEY IS A SUCCESS STORY
Freshmen defensive back Emmanuel Moseley who was an early enrollee for the program is a true product of the success of Dave Lawson's strength and conditioning regimen.
With the help of Lawson and sports nutritionist Allison Maurer, Moseley went from 145 to 178 pounds. And he isn't done there. Moseley's goal is to hit 185 pounds.
Moseley attributes much of his weight gain to Maurer's food plan.
"I give it to Ms. Allison," Moseley said. "She really helped me out. She stayed on me about eating, so that's how I did it."
Head Coach Butch Jones calls Moseley's added weight "the right pounds" thanks to the support staff and Moseley's dedication.
"Allison [Maurer] does a great job in our fueling station and works very closely with Jason [McVeigh] and Dave Lawson and they have done great job," Jones said. "And also a lot of credit goes to him, it is the sacrifices, it is getting up at 2 o'clock in the morning and making himself a triple-decker peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it is maybe eating a little bit more, it is getting the rest, it is working exceptionally hard in the weight room. And he has done that."
One of his biggest adjustments wasn't just adding on over 30 pounds but also keeping his speed and ability to move on the field.
"As I put on the weight, I'd have to run. I'd lose some and had to gain it right back. It was kind of hard, but it was worth it."
Hoping to earn early playing time, the time spent was worthwhile as Moseley sees direct correlation with his success at his position.
"I notice it because in the spring I was kind of getting bumped and I may fall but now I can hold my ground."
Jones also sees that the added weight hasn't changed the competitiveness of the former high school quarterback.
"His style of play has never changed in terms of his swagger, his competitive nature, his instincts, but obviously he is playing a lot more physical just because of the added strength," Jones said. "Now he needs to continue to go. He can't play at this level at that weight, he knows that and he has continued to work through it. But Emmanuel has been one of those individuals that has been great to see in training came. He has been extremely consistent each and every day. You know what you are getting with Emmanuel every day."
SOMETHING ORANGE, SOMETHING NEW
For sophomore receiver Josh Smith, the 2014 season brings new opportunities with a new mindset as Team 118 approaches its home opener against Utah State.
"The word on my bus, as Coach has been emphasizing, is `new'," Smith said of the buses, each player were given prior to the season in reference to Jon Gordon's 'The Energy Bus' book.
"Everybody has been asking me, "What is `new'?" I said, I'm a new me. It's a new team, a new day and I'm a new guy. I feel like I'm starting strong, so I've got to end strong."
As a true freshman in 2013, the Knoxville native made four starts and appeared in 11 games for the Vols. While he found the experiences to be invaluable, Smith now strives to live up to the praises from Coach Azzanni and continue to fight for starts against arguably the toughest competition among Tennessee's receiver squad in years.
"When you come here as a true freshman and you don't expect to play then I don't know what you're doing," said Smith. "I wanted to play. I expected to play and I was fighting to play. I just didn't execute last season how I wanted to but it's behind me and now it's a new year. I feel like I'm doing good, but I feel like I have a lot to improve on, as does everyone."
While using the term “new” to motivate himself on a daily basis, Smith also points out that the word applies to the Vols offensive unit as a whole, citing the increased level of skill and competition at every position.
"We're not making the same mistakes we used to," added Smith. "We're just making plays and we know everything. We know the whole offense, in and out, and we can play different positions. We have more competition, that's really the big thing. We have more chemistry now. It definitely motivates me every day. I mean, how does that not motivate you?"
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @larryfleming44)