It’s been a long two days for some of the freshman early enrollees in Tennessee’s spring football camp.
Unlike newcomers who arrive in summer with a dozen or more classmates, the inexperience of the spring freshmen stand out.
“We have to keep in perspective that they should still be in high school,” coach Butch Jones said Tuesday after the second day of spring practice.
Receiver Paul Harris, defensive end Corey Vereen and cornerback Lemond Johnson all are true freshman. Cornerback Riyahd Jones is a new arrival via junior college. Freshman safety Jalen Reeves-Maybin is sitting out spring football after a shoulder injury.
Harris in particular has taken his fair share of intense coaching from receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
“Come August, they will reap the benefits and rewards of enrolling early,” Jones said. “Right now, you have to be patient. Everything is accelerated and football is just a small part of it. They are in a new setting, they have new friends, they are taking college classes. There are so many things around them, and it’s not just doing football.”
Considering all that, Jones said, “They’re doing a great job.
Jones said the football program is on a run of “momentum” that will cause the rest of the college football world to take notice.
Perhaps alluding to a recent run of success on the recruiting trail, or the good feelings that coincided with the start of spring practice on Saturday, Jones said he felt optimistic about the future and thought the “sleeping giant” of UT football was about to wake up.
“I think people around the country understand what we have here,” Jones said after practice Tuesday morning. “They’ve been waiting for Tennessee to wake up. And now we’re waking up.”
Jones said he told his team the first “real football” practice begins on Thursday, when UT practices for the first time in full pads.
A situational scrimmage is tentatively scheduled for Saturday.
“We have a long way to go and I’m very impatient,” Jones said. “We have to come out Thursday with a great sense of urgency.”
Sophomore Justin King spent most of his freshman year as a fullback and — perhaps unexpectedly — an occasional Wildcat quarterback. He even gained 18 yards on a run in a game against Akron last September.
The new staff has sent King to tight end in practice, a move that he’s taken in stride. From the moment he arrived at UT, flexibility has been his role.
“I’m a team player so I’m not really trying to find anything that I want to be specific on,” King said. “Whatever the coaches want me to do, I want to do it, period.”
Riyahd Jones, a Columbus, Ga., native said fans familiar with his sense of humor on Twitter might not recognize his demeanor on the field.
“When the pads come on, that’s when you’re all going to see a beast,” he said. “I’m just getting started.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.