Tennessee associate head coach Steve Stripling speaks to Knoxville-area high school coaches
Snapshots of the summer for Tennessee football players include plenty of laughs and smiles — a white-water rafting trip, weekends on the beach, a barbecue and pool party at a coach’s house.
Associate head coach and defensive line coach Steve Stripling said the team bonding was important, but added there was grueling work to do, too.
Like nearly all major college football teams, the Vols endured regular workouts under the supervision of the strength and conditioning staff and even underwent a series of military-style boot camps by visiting current and former military personnel.
Stripling hopes the preparation will help the Vols ready for the start of fall camp. Players officially report on Thursday. The first practice session is Friday.
“You hope you can start at a further point than you were at spring,” Stripling said Friday before speaking at the Knoxville Orthopedic Center kickoff luncheon at Thompson-Boling Arena. “Although we’re not able to direct the kids during the summer, you hope they’re further down the line.”
The Vols underwent military-style training with The Program, a traveling boot camp directed by former elite athletes and military leaders that tries to push athletes to their limit. The group has also worked with UT’s softball team.
Stripling said workouts in the deep end of the pool might have been the most challenging part of the program — both for poor swimmers and for the strong swimmers who were tasked with keeping their comrades afloat.
“A lot of our guys aren’t great swimmers. A lot of our guys don’t swim at all,” Stripling said. “So you’re thrown in the deep end and all the time you’re looking around making sure your teammates aren’t drowning.”
Stripling said this year’s team — and his unit in particular — has a strong group of seniors that has helped the young players adjust.
Coaches paired each newcomer with a “big brother” this summer.
“They come in the summer and kind of get thrown into the fire, so it’s good to have a big-brother-type personality to help them get through that,” Stripling said.
There are five freshmen on the defensive line: Corey Vereen, Jason Carr, Malik Brown, Jaylen Miller and Kendal Vickers. Only Vereen went through spring practice.
Linemen are always more likely to redshirt than skill position players because they can often benefit the most from a full year of strength training and weight gain. With six seniors and two juniors on the defensive line, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see most of the freshmen redshirt.
But Stripling said there would be plenty of time to figure that out.
“You ask them to all come here ready to play, because you never know what’s going to happen,” Stripling said. “We don’t talk in terms of redshirt years. If at some point in time during that first year you see they’re not going to play meaningful snaps, then you can talk about redshirting.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.