Tomorrow's public unveiling of Team 117 is sure to be a little different. The only skill position name you'll recognize is Rajion Neal, as Marlin Lane's absence continues. You may know all of the names defensively, but you last saw them giving up 74 plays of 20+ yards in the worst defense in school history. Whoever the playmakers are, they will be new.
The format will be new, especially if they use the scoring system from the previous spring scrimmages which ended with basketball scores more familiar from Bruce Pearl's days than Cuonzo's. The scrimmage may go purely situational at some points. The structure will be new.
But more than anything, the name at the top of the board and on the bottom line is new, and apparently you'll get him with a live mic. Butch Jones - who we barely embraced the day he signed but we're now giving at least the man handshake, back pat, and attaboy because of who has pledged to sign for him - will really meet the masses for the first time tomorrow afternoon. For all the ways this team will struggle - and it will - Butch has done all the little things to win the trust of the fanbase. It's not just assembling a projected Top 5 recruiting class for next year, an amazing feat for a program that is 79th in winning percentage in the last five years. That's the future, and it is orange. In the present, Jones is spreading the gospel of Tennessee Football, and it's working. He's not just reaching in-state kids and legacy talent, he's recruiting nationally. He's not just reaching Knoxville, he's not just speaking at the Bradley County Rotary Club, he's going to Nashville to secure the state. And he's not just reaching the Andy Kellys of the alumni world. Peyton Manning is our favorite son and will always return home. But Butch Jones got Jamal Lewis on campus at the start of spring practice and will apparently have Arian Foster in the fold on Saturday for his first trip back to Knoxville. The man is doing work.
We won't really get to see it until the fall, and when we do it will be a fight for six wins. But we'll get a little dose of it tomorrow, and I for one will be glad to see it. Will it be vanilla? You bet.
When I was a kid, they had Superman ice cream at a place in Foothills Mall whose name escapes me. Superman ice cream was the king of all flavors because it made you believe you were, in some small and childlike way, a part of something special. They still have it at the Mayfield Dairy here in Athens, cleverly disguised as Supercow to avoid lawyers. I still ask for it when I'm feeling particularly young.
Superman ice cream is vanilla ice cream. It's just cleverly disguised, thanks to red, yellow, and blue food coloring, as something more. You still know it's vanilla. But the kid in you also knows it's something more.
Tomorrow's Orange & White Game will be vanilla, but it will be dressed up as something more. And it won't be unlike Team 117 this fall, which will take the field with a very Clark Kent roster to face a schedule full of the worst villains. A day is coming when the Vols return to equal firepower with the rest of this league. We can see that in the works already. Until then, this mild-mannered team will make it its business to dress vanilla up as something more and see if it's worth six wins and the one big one to make us all believe along the way.
You'll get a taste of it tomorrow. And no matter how vanilla it looks, I think it will be something that makes us want to pull for it very hard when it counts this fall. Because everybody loves vanilla, right?
Either way, come out and support this team and its new coach tomorrow. It should be a beautiful day, made even more so because it's a new day for Tennessee Football, and there's plenty of room on the ground floor.
Go Vols. #FillNeyland