Mike Strange: Resiliency defines seniors at Tennessee

Mike Strange

Nick Reveiz nominated for award honoring outstanding walk-on

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They're the survivors.

They're the ones who bought into a new regime when the old one was pulled out from under them.

And when that regime was pulled out from under them too, they're the ones who bought into yet another regime.

It wasn't what any of Tennessee's seniors signed up for, but they stuck it out. And now it's about over.

"Man,'' defensive end Gerald Williams said, "time flies.''

They have known the highs - clinching an SEC East title in a four-overtime marathon at Kentucky and going to the Georgia Dome to play for a championship.

They have known the lows - getting embarrassed by Florida, 59-20, or stunned by Wyoming.

They've seen their senior year pushed the brink of a cliff, 2-6 at the end of October.

And they've brought it back from the brink with a three-game winning streak to create a meaningful scenario for their final run through the T.

"They've been through something like no other senior class in Tennessee history has been through,'' said first-year UT coach Derek Dooley.

The story of UT's 2010 season has been about the new guys. New coaches. All the freshmen forced to contribute.

But let's not forget the old guys. Imagine how much worse things might have gotten had the seniors refused to get on board with a third coach in three years.

"That's not easy,'' Dooley said. "I haven't had one problem with the senior class wanting to do it how we want to do it and I'm very grateful for that.

"It could have easily been different.''

Imagine how much worse things would be now if the seniors had spit the bit in a winless October. They didn't and they're playing for a bowl bid Saturday against Kentucky.

Eight, maybe nine, seniors will start Saturday, plus kickers Daniel Lincoln and Chad Cunningham. More than that have left the program in the turmoil of the past two years.

The ones who stayed, they were asked how they want to be remembered.

"As a group that never quit,'' said receiver Gerald Jones.

"A group that had the ambition and the motivation and determination to excel, to not go out on the bottom. To do anything we could to turn this season around and turn it into a positive.''

Jones, ever eloquent, envisioned a scene a couple of years down the road when the seniors return for a homecoming game:

"When we think about our senior season, do we hang our heads about it? Do we say we wish we could have done this differently?

"Or do we say we're proud of ourselves for the way we bounced back? Because it's hard to come back and win out and go to a bowl after losing four or five straight games.''

That bowl game isn't a done deal yet. Far from it.

Beating Kentucky a 26th consecutive time will be difficult, perhaps more so than any of the previous 25. These seniors won't have time for nostalgia in their final hours at Neyland Stadium. They have one more fight on their hands.

"I feel like a lot of our guys have really stepped up and answered the bell,'' said linebacker Nick Reveiz, a worthy poster boy for his class's resiliency.

"This game is going to be a big part of determining where this senior class ends up.''

That's true. But for these guys, in this turbulent era of Tennessee football, just ending up being a senior has already proved a point.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276. Follow him at http://twitter.com/strangemike44 and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/strange.

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Comments » 11

HallowedHill writes:

It's gonna be a dog fight tomorrow. We'll need the seniors to step it up once again.

GO VOLS!

dwa7#337691 writes:

early predict:

Vols 26
Cats 20

newtonrail writes:

No other senior class. You younkers amaze me. Dickey's first year in '64 and that senior class went through a little worse record during their three coaches (Wyatt, McDonald, and Dickey) in three years. Not much new under the sun, even in football.

tnsportsman writes:

THANK YOU SENIORS! You guys have gone through more S--T than any group of football players in our Great Tennessee History!

Get the young players FOCUSED for Sat and bring home a BIG ORANGE WIN against ky for 26 straight. WE must and will WIN with you Seniors leading the way!

GO VOLS, WE ARE UT!

rockytopatl writes:

in response to newtonrail:

No other senior class. You younkers amaze me. Dickey's first year in '64 and that senior class went through a little worse record during their three coaches (Wyatt, McDonald, and Dickey) in three years. Not much new under the sun, even in football.

Great post. Dooley needs a little more work on Tennessee football history.

brauhuff#295403 (Inactive) writes:

Good Luck Seniors and Beat Kentucky

newtonrail writes:

Looking back at my last post I should have given kudos to this years seniors, and I will drive up and be there in the normal cold Kentucky game weather to cheer them one last time as they come through the T.

VOLFTBL writes:

Thank you Seniors for staying the course and representing the Orange and White with class. Good luck tomorrow and play your best... good things will happen.. including another win against the Wildcats.

psychovol2 writes:

I will always remember these seniors for persevering through adversity. Nevertheless, I'll remember them a little more fondly if they persevere one more time against KY. And if they win a bowl game, I'll crown them as heros during a most troubling time in UT history.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to newtonrail:

No other senior class. You younkers amaze me. Dickey's first year in '64 and that senior class went through a little worse record during their three coaches (Wyatt, McDonald, and Dickey) in three years. Not much new under the sun, even in football.

As one who also remembers the Wyatt/McDonald/Dickey days, I still think Strange has a point. Wyatt's last few years were down, which was why he was dismissed a few years after UT fielded one of its best teams in 1956. Everyone knew that McDonald was an interim coach when he was named. Then Dickey came in and even though his first season was a losing one, everyone was optimistic that the program was on an upswing. The thing about this year's seniors is that EACH of their coaches was thought to be THE guy.

Fulmer of course had been the coach for 16 mostly great years and, as many posters on here keep reminding us, many thought he should have never been let go when and how he was. Then many if not most fans thought Kiffin would be here, if not forever, for at least long enough to rebuild the program. Now Dooley has that mission. Each of those three were about as different from each other as any three coaches could be, while there was a certain continuity of practice and tradition from Wyatt to McDonald. Dickey was not as much a traditional Vol as the other two, but he had the same general attitude about SEC football that his predecessors did.

The record for the '64 seniors was worse overall than what this year's seniors have experienced, but I would argue that this bunch went through far more turbulence generally than the '64 bunch did.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to newtonrail:

Looking back at my last post I should have given kudos to this years seniors, and I will drive up and be there in the normal cold Kentucky game weather to cheer them one last time as they come through the T.

I surely join you in that sentiment and I wish I could be there with you to see the guys off in traditional grand UT style. I was a freshman at UT during the '64 season and always had a deep appreciation for the way that group set the stage for Dickey's success. I'm sure that today's fans will view this year's seniors in much the same way.

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