Vols roll into SEC Media Days with lofty expectations
The whirlwind of Southeastern Conference Media Days had Tennessee in its grip on Tuesday with Butch Jones,Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton answering questions from media from around the country at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel.
HOOVER, Ala. (UTsports.com) -- The whirlwind of Southeastern Conference Media Days had Tennessee in its grip on Tuesday with Butch Jones,Joshua Dobbs, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cameron Sutton answering questions from media from around the country at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel.
The Volunteers' contingent spent more than two hours going through the paces of the various interview rooms and video shoots at the SEC's annual preseason event. Sit back as UTSports.com takes you inside the Vols' day in Hoover.
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After the Tennessee players and Butch Jones conducted more than 20 interviews on the event's radio row, appearing on stations all across the SEC footprint, the Vols official day actually started four minutes early when Commissioner Greg Sankey introduced Jones to the main media room.
Jones began his remarks with a remembrance of Tennessee legend Pat Summitt, who passed away earlier this month.
"I'm very grateful for the time I was able to spend with her," Jones said. "We spent a lot of time together talking about everything. Coaching is about creating change and she was able to do that. Everything is about excellence and leaving a legacy and she definitely did that."
Sankey's introduction lauded Jones and the Volunteers for the academic progress that the program has made under the head coach since he took over in December of 2012.
"We're going to continue building the Tennessee football program for sustained success," Jones said, referencing the Commissioner's remarks. "We're experiencing all-time records in terms of community service, academics and graduation rates. Now, were experiencing success on the football field."
Jones also talked at length about the three players that he brought to Hoover, all members of his first recruiting class at Tennessee that stuck together to build the program into what he envisioned when he took the job in Knoxville.
"We had 31 days to assemble our signing class my first year," Jones recalled. "We spoke about getting Tennessee football back to relevance and they've really been the foundation piece for us."
In the radio/internet room, Dobbs was asked about the relationship he has built with AJ Cucksey, a six-year-old from Knoxville battling brain tumors. Dobbs helped Cucksey celebrate his birthday over the weekend, a much taller figure in photos than the fellow party attendees.
"It's been amazing," Dobbs said of their friendship. "I met him my sophomore year after the South Carolina game. He came to practice still in a wheelchair and told me I was his favorite player. After the season, before the bowl game I went to see him for the first time."
Just as the youngster draws inspiration from his favorite player, Dobbs is equally inspired by Cucksey's fight and attitude.
"Every time you visit him, he's high energy, he always wants to do something different, something exciting," Dobbs said. "He puts a smile on my face every time I see him. It puts things in perspective when things get tough because here's a six-year-old kid going through something that I can't even imagine. I'm thankful for him and all of the other kids that we have the opportunity to talk to."
A day after the Gators made the rounds in Hoover, the September 24th matchup with Florida was a popular question for the Vol players. None of them took the bait, though, insisting they have no choice but focus on and prepare for the next opponent.
"The most important game in our locker room is the one on September 1st against Appalachian State," Dobbs said. "We have to focus on taking care of business. I know Florida comes to our place this year and that will be exciting, but we'll take care of that when it comes."
Later in the main media room, Reeves-Maybin said that while fans can focus on game two, game four or game seven, the players have no choice but to focus on the next game.
"Appalachian State is just as important as Virginia Tech, just as important as Tennessee Tech, just as important as Alabama," Reeves-Maybin said. "I really don't focus on that at all. I focus on each game each week, that's what our team focuses on. Externally, I know it seems like you look at the schedule and say you have to be at a certain place by a certain point, but from a player's standpoint, you can't do that. External expectations take you away from focusing on your teammates."
Back in the radio/internet room, Sutton held court on the expectations for the Tennessee defense. The senior expects his defensive backfield unit to be bolstered by the return of Rashaan Gaulden, whose number seven Sutton wore last year after the sophomore was injured in preseason camp.
"Rashaan brings another element to the game," Sutton said. "He's versatile, not just one position, but can play any position in the secondary. He has the size, he has the speed, he has the skill set and the confidence in his game."
Sutton returned for his senior season at UT, passing on the NFL Draft for one more go-around with his brothers in orange.
"It's bigger than me, it's about impacting everyone around me," Sutton said of what helped him make his decision to return. "I say that I've had a positive impact on my teammates and coaching staff, but also this University and our community. I finish school in December. This is another opportunity to do what I love with the people I love."
Dobbs and Sutton each took a turn in front of the SEC on CBS cameras in what was dubbed "The Fun Room."
In a game of "Either-or," both players were asked a series of questions where they had to pick between two options. When asked if he would rather own a dragon or be a dragon, Sutton opted for ownership.
"I'd rather have a dragon," he said quickly. "Nobody has a dragon."
Dobbs took the opposite position.
"I want to be a dragon," he said with a laugh. "You can fly and spit fire. Those things are pretty cool."
Dobbs was a popular pick among his teammates and his head coach for the question of who would be best as elected president. Told he could not select himself, Dobbs went with one of his roommates, walk-on redshirt junior offensive lineman Thomas Edwards.
"He can do it all," Dobbs said. "Smart kid, very good with people, he would be my pick."
Closing out the day on set with the SEC Network's Paul Finebaum, Dobbs addressed the high expectations placed on Team 120 going into the season.
"We have high expectations for ourselves, so we hold ourselves to the highest standard," he said. "Our mindset going into this season is focusing on the one thing we can do every day and that's get better."