Strange: 21 seniors hoping for happy ending after last 'T' run



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They arrived full of optimism and confidence. Their goal was, obviously, to win championships. They're down to their last chance.

There's still a trip to Lexington on the docket, but for 21 Tennessee seniors, Saturday is the final run through the 'T' at Neyland Stadium.

You couldn't name all 21 if you tried. Several have given up playing. A few were walk-ons who stuck it out but never got on the field, save the jayvee game earlier this fall.

The guys who will enter hostilities with Vanderbilt are a combination of the 2003 and 2004 signing classes, plus old-timer J.T. Mapu from 2002. It's been quite a ride.

"We've been through the ups and downs,'' defensive end Xavier Mitchell said Tuesday.

That applies to both their careers and their senior season.

Once in the not so distant past a down season at Tennessee got you the Citrus Bowl. These guys experienced the redefinition of down.

Things started well enough. They won the SEC East in 2004. Beaten by Auburn in the SEC championship game, they finished with an impressive Cotton Bowl romp.

Then came 2005, when, to everyone's surprise, the wheels went way off the track. A 5-6 record, no bowl, losing to Vanderbilt in Neyland. A hat trick of misery, none of which you'd want happening on your watch.

Their junior year, 2006, was a credible rebound at 9-4, although initial momentum had fizzled by the end.

As for 2007, it's been a good fall for chiropractors, what with all the whiplash from the highs and lows.

UT's three losses have been by a combined 70 points. And yet six wins in the past seven games puts these seniors two steps away from going out the way they came in, with an SEC East title and a date in Atlanta.

"This group has experienced a lot,'' said head coach Phillip Fulmer. "It's been very important, bouncing back from something very unfamiliar to us.''

It's a class defined by quality rather than quantity. Only 10 are a cinch to get in the game Saturday. Quarterback Erik Ainge, by all accounts, has risen to the occasion of senior leadership.

"I think his legacy will be one of respect by his teammates,'' said offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, "respect that was a little bit hard-earned because everybody knows there was a rocky road there for a while.''

Assistant coach Trooper Taylor says Casey Woods is an unsung hero in this class:

"I wouldn't even have to show up for meetings and he'd make sure everybody's doing what they're supposed to do.''

Jonathan Hefney hasn't had the uniformly excellent season he'd like but a couple of coaches praised his leadership in an inexperienced secondary.

Nobody could argue that Tennessee has fought back from the fiasco of 2005. Still, the extent of that recovery has yet to be defined.

An East title, at the minimum, would be a respectable exit for these seniors. Then you roll the dice against No. 1 LSU in the championship game and see what happens.

"We need to put this program back where it needs to be,'' said tight end Chris Brown.

And that unfinished business is very much on the minds of the guys who will play for the last time in Neyland on Saturday.

"Senior Day will be fun,'' said Ainge, "but, honestly, at the end of the day, when the clock's over, do we have more points than they do?

"That's 100 percent what it's all about for every person that has anything to do with this program right now.''

Having more points than Vanderbilt has isn't just about avenging home turf from 2005. It's a means to an end for a class with a legacy yet to determine.

"I'd love,'' said Mitchell, "to write an ending with playing in Atlanta and bringing home a championship.

"This is a great opportunity to put a check mark on one last goal we have set.''

Mike Strange may be reached at 865-342-6276 or strange2@knews.com.

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Comments » 42

thesavageorange writes:

Xavier you will have your chance.You, John , Eric , Chris , Ryan , Jarod ,and Antonio (seniors that have played alot)better tell the young guys about 2005.We have had ups and downs, but losing to Vandy ever again (especially at home) is unaceptable.Thanks for being vols.

nicksjuzunk#646117 writes:

Well done guys. Congratulations on a hard fought season. Finish well.

ncvol17 writes:

Go out with 2 W's against the Dores and the Cats

DenmarkVol_aka_Mbumburu writes:

Congrats to you seniors, every last one of you. You'll never forget your time at Tennessee and you'll always be Volunteers.

But it ain't bye-bye just yet...not yet.

Take care of business and thanks for leaving it all on the field...

navdocvol writes:

I love ut football. go vols.

Phowell23 writes:

Thank you Seniors for giving it all for the Big Orange! Now...go out in style with a trip to Atlanta and then a trip to New Orleans!

iowavol writes:

I love senior day in Neyland. You guys get to walk through the T and hear real Vol fans rain down their appreciation for your sacrifice an your devotion. Nice work team, nice work men, 1 this weekend, 1 next and then 1 more would be real nice.

jawjavol writes:

A huge thank you to all the Senior Tennessee Vols but an even bigger cheer for those from points between Gaffney, SC to the Oregon coast who left their homes, families, and friends and volunteered to wear the orange in Knoxville! Stay focused and finish 12-3!

pdhuff#552644 writes:

You go guys, must be a great feeling heading thru the T! You know if Phil ever tripped leading them out, we've have a pile 27 foot high with orange jerseys and tubas!

aj_vol#248433 writes:

jwray you are pathetic dude...it's just too bad we can't fire you

Oenoboy writes:

jwraymond is like school on Saturdays...no class.

Thank you Seniors for all four years. It takes character to bounce back the way you guys have.

Finish strong and make us proud!

GO VOLS!!!!

CoverOrange writes:

Please start a new trend in these threads and not respond to insubstantial postings. It leads nowhere.

Mike, can you provide a list of the 21 since we "couldn't name all 21 if you tried". thanks.

jandjhome#228397 writes:

Thanks for wearing the Orange guys.

ralphie writes:

good riddance

RemembertheAlamo writes:

Congrats and Thank you to the 21 Young Men for their Services to the BIG ORANGE.....I am sorry but I can only come up with 19.....I guess I am 2 short...........We need your leadship for 3 more games....Go Vols
Here are the 19 I have......

DB Adam Gillem Knoxville
DE Antonio Gaines Covington, TN
TE Brad Cotham Germantown, TN
WR Casey Woods Starkville, MS
TE Chris Brown Destrehan, LA
TE David Holbert Nashville
OT Eric Young Union, SC
QB Erki Ainge Hillsboro, OR
DT J T Mapu Kahuku, Hawaii
DB Jarod parish Summerville, GA
DB Jonathan Hefney RockHill, SC
DE Michael Crain Jacksonville, FL
C Michael Frogg Kingston, TN
TB Roy Olasimbo Riverdale, GA
LB Ryan Karl Franklin, TN
OT Steven Jones Brentwood, TN
DE Xavier Mitchell Long Beach, MS
DB Inquoris Johnson Atlanta, GA
DE Antonio Reynolds Akron, OH

RemembertheAlamo writes:

Ralphie....your comment is the most negative comment I have ever seen on these post and I am appalled that a True Vol Fan would utter those words to our Seniors...

qball77 writes:

vols76 - Daniel Brooks (5 star Linebacker) and Brent Schaeffer (4 star QB) are the other two. They have (to nobody's dissapointment really) both gone bye-bye.

RemembertheAlamo writes:

Thanks qball77.....I thought about those but didn't know whether to count them or not, because I wasn't counting anyone that went to the NFL early......How about Brent Schaeffer did great in HS and Junior College but couldn't make it on two different teams in the SEC.....If I would have been him I would have chose a different College after Junior College than Mississippi....Oh well....

DennisVols writes:

Since we keep seeing the bad stats about UT and all the negative talk about where this program is headed I decided to look at the most recent figures to see if all this really added up.
Is UT in the decline? Are we no longer one of the elite? I compared UT to the 5 coaches everyone thinks is out coaching Fulmer. Meyers, Richt, Saban, Miles and Spurrier
Over the last 7 games how has UT compared to other SEC EAST and LSU
DEFENSE
(1) UT Average Points Per Game Allowed: 21
(2) LSU Average Points Per Game Allowed: 22.85
(3) UA Average Points Per Game Allowed:24.28
(4) UGA Average Points Per Game Allowed: 25.14
(5) USC Average Points Per Game Allowed: 28.86
(6) (5)UF Average Points Per Game Allowed: 29.14
OFFENSE
(1) LSU Average Points Per Game Scored: 36.57
(2) UT Average Points Per Game Scored: 36.14
(3) UF Average Points Per Game Scored: 35.14
(4) UGA Average Points Per Game Scored: 33.74
(5) USC Average Points Per Game Scored: 27.71
(6) UA Average Points Per Game Scored: 25.86
Record:
UT, UGA & LSU: 6-1
UF: 4-3
USC& UA:3-4
UT has the lowest scoring defense over those 7 game, the 2nd highest scoring offense and tie for the best record.
Considering how this season started it was easy to get on Fulmers case and the rest of the staff. It was easy to question the heart of the players after the Gator stomp. Looking at this turn around and the fact that UT is right where everyone would hope they would be, in control of the SEC East heading into the final two games it is also hard not to give credit where it is due. UT’s stats and record ranks at the top of the SEC and those coaches who most, including myself, thought were so much better do not have the record or the stats to prove it.
* Information available at: http://www.secsports.com/new/sports/f...
My Blog: http://www.sportingnews.com/blog/Denn...

Stumps writes:

can't wait to be at the game Saturday, soak in the cheers!

qball77 writes:

vols76 - Yeah he did not make the best choice. He probably could have had a lot more success in a weaker conference and gotten more visibility. Also I believe he was guaranteed the starting job by Ed Orgeron when he decided to transfer and got lazy, thinking he would not have any competition for that spot.

spudvol writes:

I have two tickets for saturday section WW (sideline tween 10-20 yard line) Face Value. I just found out I have to work Saturday (no way out of it)

Email me themorgan08@yahoo.com I can get them to you Friday night. I have friends going to the game who can deliver them. I live about an hour west of nashville if you are in Middle or West TN.

Volunatic writes:

It's likely Ralphie is a Colorado fan, which would explain the bitterness.

Volunatic writes:

GO VOLS!!! Beat Vanderbilt!

LargeOrange writes:

Man givim6, I sure hope you are right. But if we take them one at a time and execute like we are capable it is possible. GO BIG ORANGE!!!

tenncorncob writes:

Congrats to the Seniors and best wishes for their continued success. It does make me nervous to hear so much talk about Atlanta. There is ONE game and ONLY ONE GAME that is important....VANDERBILT. All these sweet stats and sweet nothings will truly mean nothing if the WEST END FINISHING SCHOOL snatches victory from the jaws of defeat. BEAT VANDY and worry about other stuff when the time comes IF it comes!
note to jawjadog.....11-3 is the very best the Vols can do this year. Would that not be something!

vol_in_lsu_land writes:

I want to thank this group of Seniors who have endured a lot of bumps in the road through their careers. Ultimately their struggles have contributed to a special character in this Class of 07. The adversity has, from my perspective, forged a sense of team where selfishness easily could have been the result.

You guys catch a lot of flak because of the 2005 campaign. I don't know the explanation for that season, but my gut feeling is the "problems" that year were the responsibility of leaders of the 05 senior class. I think those problems graduated right along with those guys. This class has the feel of a Rocky Balboa story. Underappreciated, underrated, the underdog at every turn but you have kept on throwing your punches. And the season has proven to be just like a boxing bout. The champion boxer need not beat his opponent with every punch...sometimes its that ONE solid land that results in the KO.

Lets throw three solid punches guys on our way to that heavyweight championship.

orangesox writes:

I'm glad to see a mostly positive reaction to this story. It's encouraging to know that most of the people who post here are still true Volunteer fans. Thanks to you seniors for contributing to Tennessee football, and don't let the sour attitudes of a few classless jackasses that have nothing better to do than rip 18-21 year old kids on the internet get you down. The REAL Tennessee fans are behind you win or lose. GO VOLS all the way to New Orleans!!

pkaplan writes:

Tennessee players making their final pregame runs through the “T” are Erik Ainge, Chris Brown, Sinclair Cannon, Brad Cottam, Michael Crain, Dylan Dickey, Michael Frogg, Adam Gillem, Bo Hardegree, Jonathan Hefney, Inquoris Johnson, Steven Jones, Ryan Karl, J.T. Mapu, Cameron Mayo, Xavier Mitchell, Roy Olasimbo, Jarod Parrish, Antonio Reynolds, Kirk Swearingen, Ja’Kouri Williams, Casey Woods and Eric Young.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

dlskaggs, some improvement, but I don't blame you for leaving out the Fla stats! Did we give up 59 to a three-loss team! Really! Wow, go Vols, beat the Dores!

CoverOrange writes:

Thanks Phil. Did you give Mike an 'F' for flunking math? Just kidding.

Singaporehillbilly writes:

Go Vols and beat vandy. Defend the turf at Neyland and go undefeated in 2007 at home. What a great foundation to build on for the next group of seniors.

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

Congratulations seniors! Wish I could've seen you in action more, but will always treasure the times I did get to see you. It's been a great roller-coaster ride. I'll be praying for all of you as you pursue your respective careers! Here's to all of you!: Go Vols, beat Vandy, UK, LSU and _________!

invisiblekid writes:

Pay no attention to Ralphie fellas, he is still upset over the unfortunate incident with the BB gun which led to the glass eye. Luckily, the lazy left eye is still intact.

invisiblekid writes:

Good try Vols76, Hardegree is an easy one to miss since he went out for tennis.

TommyJack writes:

Ralphie: Are you Ralph Malph?

Colliervol writes:

Some of you guys act surprised about Ralphie. That was mild compared to the delusional behavior he showed on here before. I'm just surprised that his meds wore off long enough to post that. Seems like he's been out of it for quite awhile. Just ignore him. He'll go away like he did before.

You'd do well so ignore some of these people as well. All I have to do now is see certain poster names and it's automatically on to the next one. Cause I know they are bringing nothing new to the table. (Yawn...)

DadwasaVol writes:

Yes, Ralphie's comment was mild by comparison. Meds can have that effect if one "stays the course."

But my real observation is how proud I am of these seniors. Down 21-0 at LSU after the team bus was attacked - no-one has ever accomplished that kind of comeback there. I really hope these seniors did not go to this post this year - so much disrespect shown them this year by "fans." These guys bleed orange six days a week. Inky will bleed the rest of his life. Can you imagine Inky reading the phooey we've seen on this site? It's been embarassing. Never forget Jason Allen, from his hospital bed, said, "Stop criticizing the coaches and players." Leave that for those who bleed for Tennessee.

govolsfan#214750 writes:

Dont worry guys, you will play great this weekend and I will help drink ya to victory. It worked during the Arkansas game! It just doesnt seem to work at the colts games, although san diego was a fun town.

imw8n4u writes:

Here is a direct quote from ESPN's college pick'em game describing the UGA / UK matchup:

"Georgia is on a roll behind dynamic freshman Knowshon Moreno, and the Dogs still hope to represent the SEC East against West champion LSU in the SEC title game. Georgia just has to get past the Cats and wait for the inevitable Tennessee loss to Vanderbilt or Kentucky."

If that doesn't tick you off then you have no pulse!!!

gavolfan writes:

Since when did Mark Richt become such a God in the SEC? I am so sick of hearing about him and his wonderfull team of bullies (that beat up little kids), that I could puke.
To the Seniors-What a ride it has been!! Let's go out there Saturday and show the world that UT football is still great. Let's concentrate on beating Vandy and then worry about next week. You guys CAN DO THIS!! BEAT VANDY!!! It will be neat to be there Saturday to see you run through the T for the last time. Remember, let's go out at home with a win!!! To all you VOL fans, let's turn out and be very, very loud and very, very proud of our team. They have been through some times, THEY CAN DO THIS!!! LET"S GO VOLS!!!!!!!!!

1974Vol writes:

TDTN - "UF" in dlskaggs' post is the University of Florida (Gators) Cali was left off because they are not an SEC opponent or one of the teams coached by someone routinely heralded as a better coach than Fulmer; which was the point he was making. Don't have the stats handy, but I doubt Cali fairs much better than teams shown in dlskaggs post of late, as they have more losses than wins of late. Maybe if you got your head out of your "I hate Fulmer" *ss once in a while you would have figured that out for yourself.

Great run seniors!! Six wins in last seven games -now finish the deal! Go Vols!

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