KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A week ago, Butch Jones casually cited a Wall Street Journal story about the effectiveness of “high-fives and chest-bumps.”
After a tough October — full of losses, transfers and injuries — Tennessee’s coach wanted to make sure his team got back to playing with a certain energy and excitement present during its 5-0 start.
Maybe he was onto something.
On Tuesday, Vols players — to a man — spoke about having fun again after snapping a three-game losing streak with a 55-0 smashing of Tennessee Tech.
“We talked all week about it just being a child’s game. It’s what we fell in love with playing as kids in the backyard, on the playground,” left tackle Bret Kendrick said.
“Let’s just go out there and have fun. We played more loose on Saturday.”
Tennessee’s renewed joy was evident against Tennessee Tech, as the Vols celebrated touchdowns with an enthusiasm missing in recent weeks.
Sure, it was only against an FCS cupcake, but the change worked.
“It was great for the team to just go out and have fun. Just enjoy the game we grew up loving. The game we grew up playing as kids. We just want to go out and have fun,” senior quarterback Josh Dobbs said.
“Obviously the implications are bigger now, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a game. You’re supposed to go out and enjoy it every time you step on the field.”
Winning certainty helps.
Junior defensive tackle Kendal Vickers suggested the expectations earlier in the season caused a team full of personalities to get too tight and “lose sight” of what football is supposed to be.
“We have a bunch of goof balls on the team. It doesn’t make since for us to always be tight,” Vickers said.
“At the end of the day, it’s a kid’s game. We get to run around and hit people, have fun and bring energy to the crowd. We just wanted to get back to having fun. It’s a fun game to play.”