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Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt listens to amplified music while warming up during the NCAA college football team's first spring practice of the season in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE -- The nation-leading 22 true freshmen who have played for Tennessee through four games this football season were in the third grade the last time the Volunteers beat SEC East rival Florida.

Really, it's been that long.

Now the Vols will try to stop the streak before it hits double digits.

The Gators carry a nine-game winning streak into Saturday's game at a sold-out Neyland Stadium against Tennessee, which last won in the series in 2004.

That surprised Vols linebacker and Florida native Curt Maggitt, but he made it clear that the Vols' focus is on the present and their best shot at snapping the dubious streak.

"Team 118, we're going to control what's happening this year," he said Monday, "so we can't really let that bother us or let it affect our attitude or emotion or the way we enter this game.

"It's a motivation behind it," he added.

The coaches in Tennessee's 30-28 win at Neyland Stadium that September night 10 years ago were Ron Zook, now an assistant special teams coach for the Green Bay Packers, for Florida and Phillip Fulmer, who is out of coaching and consulting East Tennessee State as it restarts its football program, for Tennessee.

As for the coaches who will be on the sideline Saturday, Tennessee's Butch Jones was coaching running backs at Central Michigan in 2004 while Florida'a Will Muschamp was in final season as LSU's defensive coordinator and linebackers coach under current Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was in elementary school in Middle Tennessee, and he admitted Monday he always wanted to play in a Vols-Gators showdown.

"It was always a big dream for me," said the Clarksville native, now a sophomore. "I wouldn't say I really expected to do it, though. I was just always working to strive to get to this place, and I'm finally here, so I'm definitely excited to play this weekend and try to make some big plays."

During Florida's nine-year streak, the programs were at two different levels.

The Gators won the 2006 and 2008 SEC and national titles and rode quarterbacks Chris Leak and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and an incredible array of talent to a 36-12 SEC record in six seasons under coach Urban Meyer.

Tennessee, on the other hand, is 28-45 in the SEC since 2004 and has toiled through six losing seasons. Jones is the fourth coach trying to stop the span. It started under Fulmer and continued through the tenures of Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley.

"I can't speak of the past," Jones said. "All I know is the present, and Team 118 controls that this week. The great thing is most of our football team hasn't even been here for those games. I can't comment on what's gone on in the past. All I know is we have to control what we can control."

The game itself is at its lowest level since its heyday in the 1990s, when Steve Spurrier's Gators and Fulmer's Vols battled in the third week of the season in a game that ultimately would determine the SEC East winner. Neither has played in the league's title game since 2009, and Saturday's game is at best the fourth- or fifth-best game in the SEC.

Saturday's game will be the first since 1955 -- a stretch of 31 meetings -- in which neither Tennessee nor Florida is ranked.

That hardly diminishes the stakes, however.

"It's a big game, and it's going to be a good environment out there, and you're going to have to perform to the best of your abilities," Vols senior linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "You're going to have to step up and make plays. That's the first thing that pops in my head.

"If you like playing, you like playing in rivalry games, and you've got to bring out the best you can in those games."

Florida is coming off a 4-8 season in Muschamp's third year in 2013 and allowed a program-record 645 yards in a 42-21 loss at Alabama two weeks ago.

For Tennessee, snapping the streak would provide further proof Jones has Tennessee on the upswing, but the Vols need to translate tangible improvement into wins.

"It's very important," Maggitt said. "Like I said after the [Georgia] game, I feel like you get tired of being so close and knowing what you're capable of. It's time for a program win. We've earned it and we deserve it; we've just got to go out there and claim it.

"I'm expecting them to come in ready to fight. No matter what's going on in the past weeks, they know it's Florida-Tennessee week. I know they dislike us as much as we dislike them. We're going to bring it, so they better bring it, too."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

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