During his Thursday appearance in Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference media days event, Tennessee second-year football coach Josh Heupel took some time to discuss Chattanooga, dodgeball, the 2000 Heisman Trophy race and, of course, all things Volunteers.
Q: This time last year, you had yet to visit Chattanooga. I know you made a Big Orange Caravan stop, but have you had time to take in the city?
A: I've been able to go through there this summer a little bit, and that's a cool downtown area. Obviously it's hugely important to us on the recruiting side of it, and it's a huge part of our fan base. It's a cool city, and I'm looking forward to spending more time down there.
Q: What have you taken away from last year's team and the foundation it set?
A: What a great journey we had a chance to be on together. When we got here, there were a lot of things that were fractured, and it had been a tough time for a lot of guys inside of our building. We created real connections and transparency and love for one another. It was a lot of fun, and I think we've really built and continued to grow that way since we got back in late January. The best part of my day is when our players walk in the building, and I have a chance to be with them.
Q: Is it true that the very first team dodgeball game you conducted came down to you and Cedric Tillman with Tillman winning?
A: (Laughing) I don't remember Cedric winning, but that's probably true.
Q: How normal has this summer felt compared to all the catching up you were having to do this time last year?
A: June was the first time we felt like we've been together through a normal cycle. Our offseason a year ago was so different than it's been this past year, and our staff and players aren't spending any nervous energy on anything else. They're focusing on competing extremely hard in the things that they've got to do every day.
Q: Did you get hosed at Oklahoma in finishing runner-up to Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke for the 2000 Heisman Trophy?
A: Who knows? At the end of the day, we got the trophy that mattered. Of course, the Heisman is really a team award, too, because it takes everybody. There are a lot of things that go into Heisman voting - the regional voting and all that. It was a great experience flying up to New York City and a great time. Ultimately, I was the first loser, and I'm willing to accept that, but I was able to come away with the national championship.
Q: What gives you confidence that Tennessee will be stronger in games following the first quarter?
A: We're deeper, even though we're not at a full 85 (scholarships) this fall. We're further into our strength and conditioning program, so I think we'll be able to compete harder for longer, and that's going to help us. Being a year into our system is going to help us. We want to finish strong. It's been a point of emphasis all offseason.
Q: Is there any area or areas of concern as you turn your attention to preseason camp?
A: I don't know if there is a position of concern. There are positions of opportunity. I think there is great competition in the secondary - safeties, star, cornerbacks. We've added some depth on the defensive line. The slot and the left side receiver offensively are two great spots of competition, as is the tackle spot after losing Cade (Mays). There is great opportunity there with Dayne Davis having played well, JJ Crawford, who we got from junior college before last season, and Gerald Mincey, who transferred from within the league (Florida). There is great competition.
Contact David Paschall at timesfreepress.com.