The Vols’ senior class has had one of the roughest four-year stretches in Tennessee history.
As of right now their record over the past four years stands at 20-28.
28 losses in four seasons.
That’s not the standard that has been set at Tennessee.
To put that number in perspective, consider this:
Alabama has exactly 28 losses over the past ten seasons.
But to blame those 28 losses on the seniors would be doing a huge disservice to a great group of young men, a group of young men that senior running back Rajion Neal described as “strong” on Tuesday.
Neal: Our legacy is strong. We have persevered through a lot. Not easily broken. But I feel like we are a strong team. We have been through a lot
He’s right. They have been through a lot.
Some of these guys were first recruited by Phillip Fulmer, some by Lane Kiffin. All of them played under tumultuous teams led by Derek Dooley.
None of them experienced the thrill of winning a bowl game, none of them even experienced a winning a record.
In fact the only time they experienced a bowl game at all was during their freshmen season — a game that Tennessee controversially lost to North Carolina.
But nobody gave their all for Tennessee more than these seniors.
The wins weren’t always there, there was a lot of frustration, but the seniors kept their heads up and persevered.
Their time at Tennessee wasn’t what they expected it to be. Tennessee is a storied program. You don’t come to Tennessee to suffer through four straight losing seasons, but that’s what these guys did.
What’s amazing is that despite the 28 losses in four seasons, these players have a love for Tennessee that runs deep — very deep.
Senior defensive lineman Jacques Smith acknowledged that his four years in Knoxville wasn’t what he expected, but you could still sense the excitement he has for the future of Tennessee football.
Smith: It is not everything I imagined but it is everything that is going to make me a better man. I just can’t wait until the future and see what Tennessee football does because we have done a lot of things to change the path even though we have been through a struggle lately. There is a bright future ahead for Tennessee
Through all the losses the players weren’t the only ones who persevered.
The fans did too, which meant a lot to senior defensive lineman Marlin Walls.
Walls: I’m most thankful for Vol Nation. It means the world to me. It has been a blessing. You take things like that for granted, but knowing Tennessee’s tradition it’s a blessing to walk out on that field, it’s a blessing to have great fans like we do. Through the ups and downs, they’ve been consistent. They back us through losses and wins. My hat is off to them…..I love them, I’ll never forget them and I respect them for just showing love over the tough years. I love Vol Nation and appreciate everything they’ve done for us.
You know, I think Rajion Neal got it right.
But it wasn’t just the seniors he described with that word, it was an entire football program.
Everyone associated with Tennessee has been strong. The players, coaches, support staff and most of all the fans.
Tennessee fans are some of the most loyal fans I’ve ever seen in my life.
That’s what makes this place so special.
And it’s for that reason that Tennessee won’t be down for long.
There’s a sleeping giant in Knoxville and it won’t be long before it’s unleashed for the rest of the country to deal with.
When that day comes, you can look directly to these seniors for laying the foundation for that success.