KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — All is right on Rocky Top, the Tennessee fans cheering on their Vols and supporting the first 5-0 start and 11-game win streak dating back to the program’s 1998 national championship season.
Tennessee defensive tackle Khalil McKenzie, son of former Vols linebacker and current Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie, said the players can feel the energy.
“You get a solid amount of (praise), the `good jobs,’ the `thank yous, you guys are doing a great job,’ it’s cool that people appreciate you,” Mckenzie said. “You get some people that look like they are about to break down into tears. It’s cool to see the people care that much.”
The No. 9-ranked Vols (5-0, 2-0 SEC) travel to play at No. 8-ranked Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday (TV: CBS).
Tennessee offensive guard Jack Jones grew up a Vols fan in the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro, so he had some idea of what to expect.
“I’ve grown up a Tennessee fan, and I’ve been a part of the fan base, (but) it is hard to know how it is until you get here,” Jones said. “Like I said, they may get on to us after a football game, but that comes with having such a passionate fanbase that means so much to them, and I know it .
“I wouldn’t want to pay for any other fan base than the University of Tennessee.”
Vols coach Butch Jones said he knew that some fans wanted him fired at halftime of the Florida game, when UT trailed 21-3 before rallying back for a 38-28 win.
McKenzie described the ugly scene as the players left the field at Neyland Stadium to boos this season.
“We start playing bad and fans get hot about it and let us know they aren’t ok with us,” McKenzie said. “I saw some cans and bottles thrown at halftime of the Florida game. People want to see you do well.
“I think that fuels us, it helps us a little bit knowing the people around feel some type of way about it, having passion is something that’s important. A lot of our fans have a lot of passion.”
McKenzie, who was raised in Green Bay, Wisc., before moving to California for high school, compared Tennessee fans to the Packers NFL fanbase.
“I would compare this a little bit to Green Bay, with how everyone cares about football,” McKenzie said. “It’s a center point for a lot of people’s lives, or social experience. Being at a place where people care so much about something you do is cool.”
The expectations weigh heavy, as Jones explained after the historic win over the Gators.
“I bleed with our fan base, I know our fan base is very hungry,” Jones said. “I know what they want, and I don’t want to let them down. Our coaches don’t want to let them down, and our players don’t want to let them down,” Jones said.
“We don’t live in a society of what have you done for me lately; we live in a society of what can you do for me next.”
The Vols are a touchdown underdog at Texas A&M and face Alabama the following week.