KNOXVILLE — Derek Dooley has a law degree and routinely references historic events in news conferences.
But when it comes to football, the second-year University of Tennessee coach believes the past is irrelevant.
“I’ve said it all along: You can’t be held hostage to the past,” Dooley said of UT’s current six-game losing streak against Florida. “That stuff doesn’t matter unless you make it matter.”
What matters for the Vols fans everywhere is how Dooley’s team fares today in the Swamp — the nickname of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, which has been a house of horrors for UT for the better part of the last two decades. The Vols are aiming for their first win over a ranked opponent since beating then-No. 21 South Carolina in 2009.
For the Vols, however, the program’s struggles in Gainesville pale in comparison to the opportunities presented by today’s trip. This could be a defining win — sophomore offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James referred to today’s game as the program’s “commercial” and “a chance to show the world what the program’s all about.”
The line between defining and deflating for a young team and a second-year coach is dotted with confidence. Do the Vols have enough of it, and can they carry it through the ups and downs that are hallmarks of road games in the SEC?
“You obviously want to go in confident, but the trick’s going to be when they do something to shake your confidence,” Dooley said. “How are you going to handle it? That’s what we’re going to find out.”
His Vols are young — more than half of the team’s starters are freshmen or sophomores — but big moments and big wins do not ask for photo IDs.
“We’re not that young,” sophomore defensive end Jacques Smith said. “To this point, everything’s kind of new, honestly. All of it’s kind of new, and I bet that’s how a lot of people feel.”
The deciding factors for the Vols likely will be anything but new today. The ability to withstand the pressure and focus on the moment and which team handles that better likely will celebrate tonight.
“It is going to be a challenge,” Dooley said. “You can’t be scared and you have to be prepared mentally and you can’t be held hostage to anything that has happened in the past.”
Especially when a win today could be historic.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...