Dan Fleser: Dodgeball, Kickball Part Of Vol Football Team Building

Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - by Dan Fleser

The football conversation on Tuesday at Tennessee’s Neyland-Thompson Sports Center was almost exclusively about football.


The fare was typical for a media-day setting and timely, considering preseason practice begins on Wednesday and the season opens Sept. 2 against Bowling Green.


There wasn’t a second spent on recounting any games of dodge ball or kick ball that took place during the offseason.

There was a time and a place for those activities. Still, Vols first-year coach Josh Heupel hopes that their relevance turns out to be timeless. They were intended to help build the relationships that sustain a team for the games that really matter.


“That was really important here,” Heupel said. “It was something (the players) felt like was missing here and what was important to them. We put a ton of energy into that in the spring and summer.”

Last month at SEC Media Days, Heupel said that any bonding experiences - light-hearted or otherwise - have a football-related benefit.


“I believe that connection matters when you face adversity,” he said in Hoover, Ala., “that you know the person standing next to you, to the left or the right, and you can depend upon those people.”    

During UT’s media day, tight end Jacob Warren said the offseason experiences were a tangible investment in some important intangible qualities.


“If everybody can believe in everything and trust in everybody, there’s no lapses in the system,” Warren said. “Everyone is on the same plain.”


Whatever assets the Vols have mustered, abstract or otherwise, ought to be useful this fall. The Vols lost 35 players from last year’s team via the transfer portal. Two other players – offensive lineman Riley Locklear and tight end Austin Pope – retired for medical reasons. Of those 37 players, 19 started at least one game at UT.


That’s a ton of experience out the door.


According to Warren, the transfers did not create any sense of resentment among those who stayed. Warren said that he still talks to most of his former teammates.


“I love all the guys who have left; there’s no hard feelings,” he said. “We’re just focused on what we have here.”


And where they all are now is a pivot point, marked by a one-word signpost. The word “trust” got a good workout on Tuesday. Presumably, the Vols spent the past seven months developing a healthy relationship with the quality as well, enough to understand how it will apply now to practice and the season ahead under a new coaching staff. 


“Trust is earned and garnered,” Heupel said, “in the way you handle yourself every single day.”

In other matters:


-Offensive coordinator Alex Golesh said he hopes to determine quickly a pecking order for UT’s quarterbacks. “I’d like to keep that private until we roll out there for the opener. Not sure that’s possible here. Seems like it’s not.”


-At 6-foot-5, 244 pounds, QB Joe Milton looks more like a defensive end.


-On Monday, Addison Nichols, an offensive lineman from Norcross, Ga., committed to Tennessee. The 6-5, 318-pounder is a four-star prospect and the highest-ranked player among the 13 commitments for UT’s 2022 signing class.


-Heupel, Golesh and defensive coordinator Tim Banks spoke on Tuesday, along with 11 players. Heupel is OK with “multiple voices” speaking on behalf of the program. “I want people to know who we are and what we’re doing here.”             



Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at danfleser3@gmail.com.

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