KNOXVILLE — High-speed chases in police cars, SWAT team simulations, attack dogs in action and more.
It had been a long time since Tauren Poole had been on a field trip of any kind, much less one like the Tennessee tailback took Friday afternoon.
“Elementary school,” Poole said, laughing, after the Volunteers spent the afternoon with teammates and officers at the Knoxville Police Department’s Phil E. Keith Training Center.
The Vols were split into six groups, mostly by their positions on the football field, and rotated to six stations that included riding along with a speeding, swerving police car on a simulated chase, watching a SWAT team fire live weapons, learning about police equipment and running in heavily padded suits from attack dogs.
The car rides and dog chases might have been the favored stops for most players, though Tyler Bray’s experience with the police dogs didn’t go so well.
“All right, we’ll just leave it that he knocked me down, because I’m not going to try to argue this,” the quarterback said of his lost battle with a German shepherd. “I’m in a group of wide receivers, and I’ll never win that battle.”
The field trip was part of the Vol for Life program, which Tennessee coach Derek Dooley instituted upon his arrival last January as a way to teach his players more than just football. It also was the second leg in a continued effort to improve the relationship with the KPD. There was a series of player ride-alongs in the fall.
“[We] have a had a lot of dialogue: What’s a healthy way we can keep continuing to get to know each other?” Dooley said. “The ride-alongs were a good start, but we weren’t really capturing everybody, so we wanted to do something where everyone was involved. Really it was KPD coming up with this idea, and it’s just been an awesome day for us.”
Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch said he also saw the value in improving the relationship and level of respect between the two parties.
“I think it’s key. There were some incidents that were unfortunate,” Rausch said. “It did cause some strain, which was really key. When Coach got here, we had that conversation, and it was a flat-honest conversation between the two of us. We both agreed that we could make it better. That’s what we’re doing.”
The initial reactions from the players, Poole said, wasn’t one of excitement. That seemed to have changed by the end of the afternoon.
“‘Oh, we don’t want to go out there. They don’t like us,’” the senior recalled. “But Coach Dooley definitely spoke up as he always does and told us, ‘You’ve just got to get to know the guys. They’re not always bad people.’
“I’ve never been a part of something where we were all together like we are and doing something like this. It’s definitely going to help us down the road, and I’m sure that’s why Coach Dooley did it. It was a great idea.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...