My teammates are guys I've become really close with, they're my family away from home. Being able to spend my birthday and some special times with these guys is always awesome.
I made the decision to come here from Rock Hill, South Carolina because I had the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the great players that have come before me. The tradition that engulfs this place and the alumni base that we have here and being able to follow guys like Peyton Manning, Tee Martin and Condredge Holloway. To be able to say that I've followed guys like that at the University of Tennessee was a huge factor in me coming here. Knoxville was close enough for my family to make it to every game, that played a huge factor as well.
When I think back to my first start at Tennessee against South Carolina, I almost laugh because I was so bad back then, but it was a great experience. We were in the game until the very end playing a top-15 opponent and it being South Carolina, the team from my home state. It set up to be a great first start for me, regardless of the outcome. I can still look back today and remember that game. It was a great opportunity.
I'm not going to say I regret anything from that first season, but knowing what I know now, I would have taken a much more intense approach in learning the offense my freshman year. I went into the year thinking I was going to redshirt, the coaches had alluded to the fact I was going to redshirt, then in week eight I'm starting against South Carolina. It was a quick turnaround, but a good experience for me. The next week against Middle Tennessee was awesome, to go out there on homecoming week and get a shutout win, throw my first touchdown pass, it was an awesome experience.
I looked at the offseason in 2013 as my time to step up. It's something that you expect as a quarterback, to be the guy that everyone looks to as a leader. We had a lot of seniors up front last year that helped take control of the offense and help me learn what it means to be a leader. My leadership has continued to develop, having to win the job last year and win the job again this year, it's done a lot to help me grow as a person and as a football player.
Injuries are always unfortunate and unwanted in a football career or any athletic career. I've had a lot of people around me help build me up and stay strong and I appreciate that from everyone that has been around me. It puts everything in perspective. It's definitely not an easy situation to be in, but me being a leader, I still needed to be involved with everybody, I still had to give advice to different people and be a leader of the team.
Games against South Carolina have been some of my best memories as a Volunteer. My freshman year, we were right there with them, the next year we go there and I didn't play at all, but we're in a shootout. Last year we beat them here as a top-10 opponent, then this year we go there and come back from crazy odds to beat them, I think it's been a great, great game for us every year. It being my home state, being able to beat them has been an awesome part of my career.
I just want to say thank you to the fans. Thank you for your support throughout my four years. I know they haven't been the best four years for this program in terms of our record, but I've enjoyed every second of it. I don't regret a single decision that I've made since I've been here. Thank you so much for all the support you've shown to me in my time at Tennessee.