Gimmicks don’t intimidate Jonathan Hefney.
Yes, Tennessee’s senior safety has heard about California’s athletic department handing out megaphones in hopes of creating a raucous environment Saturday night when the No. 12 Golden Bears play host to the No. 15 Vols.
No, Hefney’s not impressed.
“They did that in high school,” Hefney said Tuesday with a smile.
To Hefney, megaphones are a poor substitution to what he perceives as geographical advantages.
“We come from the South,” Hefney said. “We play tough football.
“In high school, we played tough football. We came here (to UT) and it was the same thing. That’s what we’re bringing to California just like when they came down last year.”
Last year’s UT-Cal game certainly bolstered Hefney’s point. UT led 35-0 in Knoxville before winning 35-18.
Hefney said he’s never seen a team wilt like the Golden Bears in his UT career.
“If we were to do it against anybody in the SEC,” Hefney said of last year’s fast, physical start, “they’re going to come back because they’re used to it.”
Cal quarterback Nate Longshore was one of the Golden Bears who couldn’t respond quickly enough last year against UT.
Longshore, then a sophomore making his first college start, completed 11-of-20 passes for 85 yards and an interception before being benched in the third quarter. He never led the Golden Bears to a score.
“This year, I think he’s trying to just to play his game and not worry about what happened last year,” Hefney said. “But in the back of his mind, he knows we’re always going to be coming on defense.”
UT’s secondary was at its best — and healthiest — against Cal last year. With a healthy Inky Johnson at cornerback, UT was able to play more man coverage, thereby allowing its linebackers to pressure the quarterback. Johnson suffered a career-ending injury the next week.
“We’re just going to go in like we did last year and do what we have to do, man to man, throw the zone in there, do whatever we have to do to stay on top of them and not let them get the big play,” Hefney said.
As for being a five-point underdog, Hefney isn’t insulted; he’s motivated.
“I like being the underdog … We’re going to go out there and hit them in the mouth, I hope,” he said.
Now, as compared to 2006, UT has far less experience in its secondary. Senior safety Jarod Parrish is the only player besides Hefney who has a collegiate start.
Senior Antonio Gaines, sophomore Marsalous Johnson and freshman Eric Berry are competing for UT’s two first-team cornerback spots. None has started a game in college.
Suddenly, Hefney is the grizzled ’ol veteran.
“I talk to the guys now and they listen to me,” Hefney said. “Back then (when I was younger), I was talking and nobody listened to me.
“They just laughed at me.”
Now it’s Hefney who’s laughing — at Cal’s megaphones.