JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers last rode a yellow school bus his freshman year of high school.
Yet there the Volunteers' fifth-year senior was Thursday night taking a trip back in time with his teammates to Milligan College, 90 minutes northeast from Knoxville
"It's been a long time," Lathers said Friday afternoon after the Vols practiced on the turf field at Science Hill High School in nearby Johnson City.
Science Hill, of course, is the alma mater of longtime Vols nemesis Steve Spurrier.
For pretty much every Vol, the training camp away from training camp experience is new. Rain and questionable field conditions at the tiny Christian college just outside of Johnson City forced UT to adjust its Friday plans, and the team will have its first camp scrimmage on Science Hill's field this afternoon.
The old-school bus ride certainly had to be an eye-opener for most players and a frustrating time for those bigger players stuffed into cramped bus benches.
The players, who packed their own bedding and other belongings, checked into their dorm rooms at Hart Hall, and some enjoyed the sleeping arrangements more than the transportation.
"The reaction was real so-so, but we got adjusted to it," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "I know today all the guys were like, 'Aw, man, this is the best sleep I ever had.' I think the white mattresses they got in there are real comfy."
Coach Derek Dooley had called the operation of moving camp away for a week a "headache" for the program's support staff, yet he said Friday everything was going well until the team had what he called a "lethargic" afternoon on the field.
"We had a heck of a move," he said. "It was an incredible operation, what our support staff was able to pull off, because we moved [what] looks like the city of Knoxville over here, and we woke up and didn't miss a beat. Kudos to the equipment staff, the training staff, the ops staff, the video staff — incredible job they did.
"But part of the season we cam here was to change the environment, make it uncomfortable, get you out of your comfort zone, and we didn't handle it very well. That's what we've got to learn to do, because we're going to be out there in games and different environments, and how are we going to handle not being in the comfort zone?
"Disappointing, but we have a scrimmage tomorrow, and we'll be ready to amp it up."
Waggner said the Vols must "block out" the change in scenery.
"The coaches are going to get it in our minds that we're going to have a good scrimmage," the fifth-year senior said. "They're going to demand that from us, and we're just looking to be consistent. The mindset is to go out there and get better.
"We know we're going against some of the best receivers in the SEC or in the country, so going out there tomorrow and executing is going to be real big for us."
Friday night lights
Two second-year Vols — center Mack Crowder and tight end Brendan Downs — had played on Science Hill's field before Friday. The two were on the Tennessee High team that handed the Hilltoppers their first defeat on the new field in 2010. The Bristol residents already had committed to UT by that point.
"We were actually coming in the underdogs in that game and ended up winning," said Crowder, the Vols' backup center. "This is the game that I probably remember more than anything my senior year. They were big favorites, they had never been beaten on this new field, they were undefeated we came in and they had a lot better athletes than we did."
Crowder said he was excited about the move to familiar territory, and even though he grew up in Bristol, the Tri-Cities area collectively has a small-town feel.
"There's guys from everywhere," Crowder said, "so they're all enjoying the scenery. Not too many people have seen mountains."
Lathers said he sat out most of Friday's practice to rest a strained quadriceps for today's scrimmage. ... Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (shoulder sprain) was in a red noncontact jersey, and Dooley said the Vols hope to play him without contact in today's scrimmage. ... Tailback Davante Bourque is not with the team at Milligan. Posts on the freshman's Facebook page indicate he has returned home to Louisiana. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has not been practicing after suffering a neck injury. ... Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a 6-1, 200-pound athlete from Clarksville's Northeast High School, announced his commitment to the Vols on Friday. Rated by 247Sports as a four-star prospect and the nation's No. 130 overall player, Reeves-Maybin had offers from Ohio State, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, among others.
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 ...