Senior safety Byron Moore is so confident that Tennessee fans will break the school’s record for spring game attendance on Saturday, he’s threatened to leave Twitter forever if the crowd falls short.
For someone who seems to tweet in his sleep, that’s a bold threat.
“That’s my challenge to the fans. If we don’t break the record, I’m getting off Twitter,” he said with a laugh.
It’s an ambitious goal. The Vols drew 73,801 fans in 1986. The next closest crowd was 51,488 for Lane Kiffin’s first spring in 2010. A year later, the Vols drew 35,891 fans for Derek Dooley’s first season.
Spring game attendance — meaningless as it might seem — is increasingly drawing attention as a way to gauge a program’s “momentum” and as a visible sign of the fan base’s enthusiasm. Kentucky, which reportedly drew more than 50,000 fans to its spring game earlier this month, is a prime example.
At Tennessee, of course, the movement has a hashtag — “#FillNeyland” — that is gaining momentum on Twitter among players and recruits. Head coach Butch Jones, who has had a daily Twitter countdown leading up to Saturday, hasn’t backed away from high attendance expectations.
“It’s a chance for us to continue to prove that there’s no better place than Tennessee,” Jones said.
Moore said a large crowd would send an encouraging message to current players while demonstrating to recruits the passion of the fan base.
“I just think it will go a long way toward showing everyone around the program that with this new coaching staff everyone has bought in and is believing,” Moore said. “It also shows the recruits how big of an importance our fans put on the spring game.”
How much importance should fans put on the spring game? As a meaningful forecast of what to expect in 2013, the spring game won’t have much to offer. Coaches will be guarded. Backups and walk-ons will get ample playing time.
But other factors could help lure a big crowd. For one, parking and admission are free. No tickets are required, so spur-of-the-moment trips are possible. And the forecast calls for sunny skies and 63 degree weather at kickoff on Saturday.
“We do have the best fan base in the country and the most passionate fan base in the country,” Jones said. “We need to continue to make Neyland Stadium a home-field advantage. Anytime we get to compete in that venue, it’s special.”
Jones said he expected a “record number” of former lettermen to be in town this weekend.
“That’s going to be exciting,” he said.
Coaches will do their best to keep the game exciting, as well. Tennessee’s lack of depth won’t allow a true split of the roster, so the offense will compete against the defense on Saturday, just like the Vols have done in practice this spring. The defense will get a chance to earn points by making stops.
“I think the guys are really eager, and I think the fans are really eager just to see what the new coaching staff is bringing,” said offensive lineman Antonio “Tiny” Richardson, who is sitting out this spring with an injury. “I think people are excited to see the changes in the program.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.