KNOXVILLE — Overcast skies unleashed a steady downpour, the temperature hovered in the low 40s and blustery winds swirled relentlessly.
Perhaps running back Montario Hardesty best captured the unusual conditions of the Tennessee football team’s second day of spring practice at Haslam Field on Thursday afternoon.
“It’s cold and it’s March,” Hardesty said with a smile. “It’s about to be spring break. We weren’t expecting that.”
Gone were the curious onlookers who peeked through fences to catch a glimpse of the Volunteers’ first spring practice Tuesday. Gone also were the sunny skies.
Unfavorable weather notwithstanding, first-year coach Lane Kiffin eschewed the heated, dry sanctuary of the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex nearby for his team’s three-hour padless workout.
Indeed, Kiffin welcomed the mucky conditions.
“Someone said it was going to rain this morning,” Kiffin said. “I was hoping it would, just to get our guys out there in it. You always want to be in the worst conditions you can be in to make game day easy. I was glad for it.”
The weather dampened the practice field but not team morale. Players erupted with a cheer after an interception by rising senior linebacker Rico McCoy sealed the defense’s win over the offense in an intrasquad competition that resembles a mini-scrimmage.
“At the end, you’ve got to act like it’s the fourth quarter, and we actually compete, offense versus defense,” Hardesty said. “Everybody gets fired up.”
Kiffin said quarterbacks Jonathan Crompton and B.J. Coleman appeared “relaxed,” even in the rainy weather.
“They’ve had great composure,” Kiffin said. “There’s still a lot of stuff being thrown at them, a lot of plays and new offense and a very aggressive defense.”
Wide receiver Gerald Jones also has been impressive in the first two practices.
“Gerald Jones is the star of the team right now,” Kiffin said.
Tennessee will wrap up its first week of spring practice in pads tonight at 5:45 at Haslam Field, then move to Neyland Stadium at 7 for an open workout for fans. Due to construction of the stadium, there will be a cap of 10,000 fans.
“I’m proud of our team because what they could have done today is said, ‘Well, we’re going to the stadium tomorrow. We’re putting the pads on tomorrow. Let’s take it a little bit easy.’ Coaches got them cranked up in warm-ups, and they responded.”
Kiffin is expecting that same intensity to carry over in tonight’s workout.
“This unit, the way they’ve come on the first two days,” he said, “if they come out that way tomorrow, it will be hard for us to keep them off the ground.”