KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee hasn’t hosted a football game on a Thursday night in 78 years. It’s been more than a century — 1896 to be exact — since the Volunteers opened the season on Thursday.
“It’s different,” redshirt junior Brett Kendrick said, chuckling.
“It’s like back to the JV teams in high school. But we’re excited. TV exposure, going to be one of the only games on. It’s going to be a lot fun. We’re ready to get things rolling.”
After a grueling training camp, the Volunteers kickstart a pivotal 2016 campaign on Sept. 1 against Appalachian State (7:30 p.m., SEC Network). They’re hungry to get the season started. They’re ready to “own” their lofty expectations.
“We’re excited for the season,” said Kendrick, who is penciled in as UT’s starting right tackle.
“We’re working everyday to be the best we can be, and I think we can be really good.”
On Sunday, Tennessee checked in at No. 9 in the preseason AP Poll, and Kendrick called it “a huge deal” before saying, “We haven’t started the season yet. Later on in the season we’ll look up and see what we’re ranked then. … But it’s definitely a compliment.”
It definitely is.
After nearly a decade of wandering in the wildness, Tennessee suddenly is nationally relevant again and lifelong fans like Kendrick, a Knoxville native who went to Christian Academy, are proud to be a part of the team to help put the Volunteers back on the map.
“We’ve came a long way since my freshman year. It’s crazy how far we’ve come,” he said.
“Obviously we had some down years throughout there, especially through my high school years, but since I got here, Coach (Butch) Jones has really turned this program around. It’s starting to feel like Tennessee football again.”
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com