KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For the umpteenth time this preseason, Tennessee coach Butch Jones downplayed the Volunteers preseason expectations during their annual Media Day on Friday at Neyland Stadium.
“I don’t pay attention to the hype,” Jones said.
“Our expectations are very high internally.”
They should be.
After nearly a decade wandering in the wilderness, Tennessee is the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East and end its 11-game losing streak to arch-rival Florida. Jones finally has a talented roster littered with both veterans and promising freshmen. Depth is no longer an illusion.
The Vols should compete for an SEC Championship in 2016, so naturally, Team120’s slogan is simple: Own It.
“Every year we try to have something a little different,” Jones explained.
“What did this team need? I think ‘Own It’ is very fitting. When you really think about it, it’s owning everything. It’s owning the expectations. It’s owning your style of play, owning your conditioning, owning your fundamentals, owning your attitude, owning your academics, owning your personal life.
“There’s so much that goes into it. If you look at it, when you own something you’re going to take greater care of it than if you rent it or borrow it.”
It’s impossible to miss the moniker around Tennessee’s football facility. It’s everywhere — from players’ warmups to a giant mat entering the practice field. The message is a constant reminder of what’s at stake this fall.
“It’s been a great slogan for us,” tailbacks assistant Robert Gillespie said, adding that the idea came from Jones.
“It’s his deal. It’s something he talked to (the staff) about, and we said, ‘Yes sir, let’s go.’ We took it to the guys and they said, ‘Yes sir. Let’s go.’”
Tennessee has attacked training camp with a unified focus, so while Jones continues to deny hearing the outside noise, it’s evident the Vols are actually listening.
“Own everything that’s being put out there. Own the expectations,” Gillespie said. “Own how hard you have to work. Own what the doubters say. It’s just own everything. Don’t make an excuse for it. Whatever is out there, if you got to do it, own it. If it’s being said about you, own it.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com