Signal Mountain Middle/High School band playing for Tennessee game at Neyland Stadium

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / Color guard member Javian Radden, 15, front left, practices a routine during a band practice at Signal Mountain Middle/High School on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.

The Eagles are landing at Rocky Top.

Signal Mountain Middle/High School’s marching band is among 10 high school bands set to perform Saturday night in Knoxville with the University of Tennessee’s Pride of the Southland Marching Band during halftime of the UT vs. Akron football game.

"They are just beaming," band director Drew Buckner said of his student musicians. "They love the idea."

Known as the Signal Corps, the 100-member band is the reigning Division II state marching band champion, Buckner said in a phone interview. But that prestige didn't influence the invitation from Knoxville.

For this first-time event, Michael Stewart, director of the Pride of the Southland, said his department simply posted an open invitation on social media.

"We knew that we could not take more than 750 students, so we just closed off the registration after we hit that many band members," he said by email. "The site was only up for about 3.5 hours before we were 'sold out.'"

Stewart said guest bands have performed with the university's flagship ensemble previously, but only one or two at a time.

"This is the first time we have had this many groups at once," he said.

The Pride is 365 members strong this season, Stewart said, so the addition of the high school marchers will bring the total number of musicians on the field to well over 1,000.

Buckner is already familiar with Shield-Watkins Field. The Soddy Daisy High School graduate performed with Pride of the Southland while a student at UT, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in music education. He has been at Signal Mountain Middle-High School for his entire 10-year teaching career.

Five Signal Mountain alumni perform with the university band, he said, "and some potential students are looking at the school already."

Stewart said Pride of the Southland Band Day will function primarily as an outreach for the bands and the university.

"We have known for years that the best recruiting tool is to have students on campus and experience the true game-day experience," he said. "We can't think of a better way than being on the field of Neyland playing to over 100,000 fans."

The 10 high school bands, all from East Tennessee, are scheduled to rehearse with the Pride for two hours Saturday afternoon, he said. Then the students and their families "are free to tailgate and enjoy the day."

The visiting bands will be seated in the upper sections of Neyland Stadium for the 7 p.m. kickoff. At some point during the first half, they'll be summoned for their performance, then they can go back to watch the rest of the game, Stewart said.

Rather than their school colors, red and black, the Signal Mountain Eagles and the nine other schools will be honorary Vols and will wear commemorative orange-and-white T-shirts the university has provided.

The halftime show likely won't be included in television coverage, but Stewart said a Pride of the Southland Band YouTube channel is in the works, and the high school band directors will receive a video of Saturday's performance.

"The Pride will perform two songs first, then the high schools will enter and perform two songs with us," he said.

The mass performance will be "Bohemian Rhapsody" by the British rock band Queen, followed by the bluegrass standard that has become Vols fans' favorite sing-along.

"We will also have the bands play 'Rocky Top' with us on the field since we want them to have the ultimate experience," Stewart said.

PARTICIPATING BANDS

— Campbell County High School in Jacksboro.

— Carter High School in Strawberry Plains.

— Cherokee High School in Rogersville.

— Greeneville High School.

— Heritage High School in Maryville.

— Lakeway Christian Academy in White Pine.

— Oneida High School.

— Signal Mountain High School.

— Volunteer High School in Church Hill.

— West Greene High School in Mosheim.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.