Former Tennessee Volunteer Jason Witten was the honorary starter at this past weekend's NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Bristol. SB Nation NASCAR blogger Jeff Gluck was kind enough to run Witten down, ask him a few questions, and share his answers with us and SB Nation Dallas Cowboys blog Blogging the Boys. Thanks, Jeff!
HAVE YOU MET COACH DOOLEY YET AND WHAT DO YOU THINK OF TENNESSEE SINCE THE PROGRAM HAS BEEN IN TURMOIL?
I was fortunate enough to meet him on Friday and spend some time with him for a little bit. I think he's going to do a great job. [He has] everything you want as far as tradition and understanding and embracing the challenges that are ahead – he's in a tough spot, as you mentioned. The last couple years have been a whirlwind for that program. The one thing you look at when you hire a guy like that is he understands the tradition of that football program. It's not going to be easy. But I really think, with time, he'll do a great job and [I've] definitely got a lot of support for him.
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT LANE KIFFIN BAILING OUT?
Oh, man. Well, I was a little surprised. I think that he's gotta do what's best for him – great opportunity and Southern Cal's a great program. It was unique how the whole process went down. It was difficult, and I'm not sure anybody saw that coming. But more than anything else, just embracing what that university and that program has done over the last 40 or 50 years, I think you've just gotta move on from it. I think the thing they did really well was going out and getting a guy like Dooley to step into this situation and understand he's got to put his working hat on and he's got a lot of challenges ahead of him.
But I was surprised that Lane did it. As a former Vol, I was disappointed a little bit, but at the same time, as a professional athlete, I understand you've got to do what's best for yourself and take the next challenge.
WHEN YOU COME BACK HERE, DOES IT HIT HOME AS TO HOW FAR YOU'VE COME?
It really does. Sometimes you get so caught up in your daily life, the challenges of being the best player that you can be, sometimes you forget about that when you step back. But every time I come back in this area – obviously, I have a football camp in the summer that I do – and just come home and visit my family that's still here, it's just amazing to see really how many people admire you and really live through you in a lot of ways as far as what you're accomplishing. It's been an amazing road and definitely the people in this area have been a big part of my career.
MORE ABOUT HIS CAMP
My football camp's been a huge platform for me and my family. Any time you can provide a camp for free for those kids who are aspiring athletes – not just football players – I think it's a great outreach for them. It's on June 26 this year. I have a lot of my teammates come, Volunteers come. So it's just a great opportunity for them.
Being an athlete on this level, you almost have a responsibility to give back to these kids, provide for them and be a role model for them.
HOW WAS IT LAST SEASON AND PLAYING IN THE NEW FACILITY IN DALLAS?
It was an amazing season. For us to get over the hump and get in the playoffs and win a playoff game, [there are] a lot of expectations and tradition in Dallas and to finally get over that hump, that was a big step.
To play in a venue like that, there's nothing like it in the world. Finest stadium I've ever been of a part of and ever seen. Definitely a thrill every week to play in it. My hat's off to Jerry not only what he did for the Cowboys, but that venue is going to reach out to so many other events, like it already has.
HOW OPTIMISTIC ARE YOU FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON?
I'm very optimistic. I feel very excited about the upcoming season – it really can't get here fast enough for us. Just felt like our team made some big strides. We had a lot of guys step up. If you look back to this year from the previous year, I really felt like the camaraderie was in a great place. Obviously it was a tough loss in Minnesota, disappointing loss, but for our team, I think the arrow points up. We're excited.
In this league, you don't just pick up where you left off. Having said that, I think you understand you have to start back over and start putting it back together. So I'm optimistic. When you have a quarterback like ours, that always gives you a good chance going into the season.
COULD YOU TAKE STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN IN A FIGHT? (Stone Cold was the grand marshal for the race)
(laughing) You know, I thought originally I could. But he's still in pretty good shape. He's definitely kept himself up. Just to hear him talk, I almost get a little nervous and start looking around, because you never know what he's going to do.