Our Vols correspondent Wil Wright is back on the scene covering another new season of hope in Tennessee. Very soon we’ll be launching his own blog, but here’s a preview of things to come:
It is a relatively common practice, in the world of college sports, to shield your youngsters from the media until they learn the tightrope act of what to say, how to say it, and (most importantly) what never to say. The system works, mostly, as redshirt-freshmen and sophomore players usually show up to media sessions during their second year groomed on-script and ready for the (understandably intimidating) media “feeding frenzy” scenario, where these guys are surrounded and asked questions from all directions. It’s a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old. But, Butch Jones and the UT sports media department surprised us.
Friday afternoon, in the Anderson Training Center’s “Football Team Room,” the Vol coaches made a bold gesture of confidence. They invited the media come meet and interview Tennessee’s endlessly heralded and discussed “legacy” recruits, the centerpiece of Butch Jones’ 2014 recruiting class, ranked #5 in the country by Yahoo/Rivals.
Moments into the surprise session, though, it all makes sense.
The “Legacy Class,” called so because they all descend (mostly via fathers) from former Vols, handled the media with clarity and composure that surpasses most upperclassmen, and many professional athletes. They answered a barrage of questions about their fathers, their pasts, their roll in holding together a #5 recruiting class, and their growing relationships with each other.
“Me and Vic Wharton played on the same little league football team,” said unofficial Legacy Class ringleader Todd Kelley Jr., the son of Vols legend Todd Kelly. He and Wharton, whose uncle Brandon played Vol basketball in the ’90s, called themselves “the dynamic duo” as teammates. The rest of the legacies only began forming relationships as the class came together. TK is rooming with Dillon Bates, who he became friends with over the last year. Dillon is a linebacker, unlike his father Bill, who had storied careers with both Tennessee and the Dallas Cowboys at the safety position.
The six also includes Neiko Creamer, son of former Vol defensive back Andre Creamer, and the Berry twins, Evan and Elliott, whose brother Eric was one of the most decorated and popular players in Tennessee history and is currently a safety for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Each of the rising Freshmen were continuously asked about the excitement and attention that the class, especially the legacies, have already gotten, despite having never played a single game at Tennessee. When asked about the pressure and expectations that come with that excitement and optimism, Evan Berry calmly and confidently answered that question with a question of his own:
“Why wouldn’t you expect a lot from us?”
That sort of confidence, combined with a common mental sharpness among the legacies, makes it abundantly clear why so much attention has been focused on them. Along with the rest of this loaded 2014 class, Butch Jones’ rebuilding plan is quickly coming into focus.