KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTSports.com)-- After four weeks of practice, the University of Tennessee student body showed out to check out Team 119 for the first time on Saturday during Student Appreciation Day at Neyland Stadium.
"It means everything because it's all about One Tennessee, and it's all about our student body, which is so supportive like everyone else," head coach Butch Jones said about the importance of having the students at practice. "To be able to have a day like this, it is rewarding for everyone involved."
The day began with a bang as the Volunteers went one-on-one in the Circle of Life drill, getting the crowd involved early, and it also offered several student-involved activities, including a competition between the quarterbacks and students to see who could hit the crossbar on the goalpost first.
"It was a bit nerve-racking being out there in front of everyone throwing," sophomore Danielle Whaley said after getting the chance to compete in the competition. "With everyone's eyes on me, it added so much pressure of wanting to throw well in front of the team. I'm happy I was the girl who got the closest to hitting the goalpost, though. That was a plus."
Although she didn't win, Whaley, a Journalism and Electronic Media major, still enjoyed getting to come out and support the team and interact with them throughout the morning.
"As a student, you always read the reports about how practice is going, but it's always great to come out here with all the students and see it firsthand," Whaley said after practice finished. "We get to see things like where the offense may be struggling or where the defense is getting stronger. With all of the interactions between the coaches and fans, it really means a lot."
When asked about the best parts of the day, it wasn't a current player who caught Whaley's attention but a former one.
"Johnny Majors came out at the beginning, and it was awesome," Whaley said. "It was really cool to see him out there with Butch. It's kind of like a legacy right in front of everyone."
The students came out in full support, totaling more than early enrollee running back Alvin Kamara was used to playing in front of at Hutchinson Community College, where he played in 2014.
"Yeah, definitely," Kamara said when asked if more students were at this practice than his games at Hutch. "There were a lot of students here. It was good to see them come out and support us. We are putting in a lot of work, and for them to see the product, it makes us feel good."
As junior college transfer and four-star recruit, Kamara has already begun to make his presence felt around campus and amongst the team. Senior and Piano Performance major Nick Dipillo is ready for Kamara's debut with the Vols.
"I am looking forward to Alvin Kamara the most," Dipillo said when asked about which players he's excited to watch this upcoming season. "I want to see how he plays and compliments Jalen Hurd. I would love to see Josh Dobbs' improvement. It will be exciting to see what this defensive line can do now that they have depth. It would be nice to see them put up 40 sacks this year because they have the talent to do it."
"It is a big deal to know that Coach Jones really cares about us," Dipillo said about getting to watch practice. "It lets us, as students, come out and do something that no other coach has done before him since I got here."
Student Appreciation Day was a good opportunity and experience for the students, but it also meant a lot to the players on the field.
"It's great to have the students here," rising junior quarterback Joshua Dobbs said. "It was a good turnout. The student section was very strong last year, so it's good to have them come out again. We still approach practice the same way, though. Each scrimmage we've had has been a different aspect. We had Teacher Appreciation Day, Parent Day and now Student Appreciation Day."
"We have a great fan base," rising sophomore Evan Berry said after practice. "With the students being out here, they got us going. I mean, it's still a practice, but with having them out here, it was definitely exciting."
The Volunteers will end their spring practices with the annual Dish Orange and White game next Saturday at 4 p.m. in Neyland Stadium, giving fans the chance to see the players' improvements and development on the field since last season.
"I am excited about the return of true Tennessee football," Dipillo said when asked about what he is most excited for this season. "The team has SEC speed and build. Even with the lack of depth they have this spring, it is a completely different looking team than four years ago in terms of size, depth and speed."