NASHVILLE — No Tennessee player was happier to hear the Volunteers would hold one of their Music City Bowl practices at Montgomery Bell Academy than Jashon Robertson.
The junior guard played football for the Big Red, but Robertson's proudest athletic accomplishment for the all-boys private school with the majestic campus just down the road from Vanderbilt didn't come on the field where Tennessee practiced Tuesday.
"I don't have nothing named after me," Robertson said, "but I have a state championship plaque in the wrestling room that I have a lot of pride in. That's something that's hard to do, that's for sure. It takes a lot of work and a lot of effort to get that done, so that's probably one thing here I do take pride in."
Tennessee certainly hoped this season ended somewhere else other than the Music City Bowl, but the silver lining of the game is that it's a homecoming for a dozen contributors who hail from the Nashville area.
Many of those midstate upperclassmen won't get the chance to play in front of family and friends and their hometowns again after Friday's clash with Nebraska.
"It's a special opportunity," wide receiver Josh Malone said. "You only get select times to play at home, especially in college. Just to play in Nissan Stadium in front of the home crowd and in front of my family for the end of the season, knowing next year Vanderbilt's playing (at) Tennessee, it's a special opportunity to play one more time in Nashville."facebook
Robertson took advantage of the perk of a Nashville bowl by using Uber to get a ride from the team's hotel to his home nearby where his mother, Monica, fixed a feast for him and teammates Drew Richmond and Marcus Tatum. Since he had to be in Knoxville for practices, Robertson missed Christmas Day breakfast, so his mother fixed it on Monday night after the team arrived.
On Tuesday he showed some of his teammates around the campus he once walked, including the MBA cafeteria modeled after the one at Hogwart's in the Harry Potter book and movie series.
"I knew what Hogwart's was and I had never watched Harry Potter," Robertson said. "My first time watching Harry Potter was like a week ago. When I looked at it, I was like it really does look like that."
Malone and other midstate Vols grew up watching the NFL's Tennessee Titans play at Nissan Stadium, though he remembers it as LP Field. It's changed names quite often for sponsorship reasons. Tennessee played its 2015 season opener there against Bowling Green.
The first Tennessee receiver with at least 10 touchdown catches in a season in a decade, Malone needs 148 yards to join Da'Rick Rogers (2011) and Justin Hunter (2012) as Vols with 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
"Most importantly I want to win, but if I get the opportunity to get past a thousand yards that'd be real special to me," he said. "I really haven't been talking to the coaches. I leave their game plan as their game plan and just do my job and go out there and execute."
The Vols should have a decided home-field advantage playing in their home state in what is nearing a sellout.
"Any opportunity we have to come back and play in Nashville, whether it's in the Titans stadium or just playing here all together, is a great opportunity," Robertson said. "Us guys we grew up watching the Titans and dreaming of playing on that field and in front of a crowd of that magnitude.
"Having the opportunity to come here and play in a bowl game like this in front of our hometown crowd is a great experience."
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