One of the best days of any off-season is the one when you realize how close it is to being over. My friends and I used to call it “the smell”. Sometimes it comes with the first hint of cooler days ahead, which have thus far remained beyond the horizon for most of us this summer. Other years it’s been the sight and smell of a freshly-cut 100 yards, but a lack of rain in East Tennessee has made things a little less green.
Our hopes for the Big Orange are evergreen when the calendar hits August. But this year there isn’t much with this team requiring talking ourselves into. It’s been this way since the final whistle in Tampa seven months ago, our eyes cast beyond that same horizon to another date in Tampa five months from now. Ten years of the hype we’ve missed have squeezed their way into this one off-season, so much so that I haven’t even been looking for (sniffing for?) the smell. It seems like we’ve been ready since walking out of Raymond James.
But no matter how much we’re looking forward to any given season, there is still something warm and welcome about the first time you see practice. It doesn’t even have to be at Neyland, behind closed gates and credentials. But just driving down the road after school and seeing your local high school team putting the pieces together. The first glimpse of helmets and pads and the kind of exhortation baseball just doesn’t provide in these long summer days. Whistles blaring and pads popping. Visual confirmation the nearness of what we’ve been waiting for.
Team 120 will step on the practice field for the first time today. The few questions that remain with this team will trickle out. Which wide receivers looked good? Who got the first snaps at left tackle? How healthy are Shy Tuttle and Jalen Reeves-Maybin?
There will be depth charts and coachspeak and everything else that comes with the final phase of the countdown. The general conversation on the Vols will get boiled down to the specific. The clock will continue to tick.
And the next time the calendar turns to the first day of the month, the lights will come on at Neyland Stadium and you and me and 100,000 of our friends will be there too.
Welcome to August. We’re almost home.