NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Butch Jones inspired hope among the hundreds of Tennessee fans present at a Nashville Sports Council event held Tuesday at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville. The UT coach, who said he was making his ninth trip to Middle Tennessee in two weeks, emphasized the region's importance to his growing program, laughing that Nashville was his "second home" and a pivotal recruiting battleground as he seeks to improve the program.
That growth was the topic of his twenty-minute address. "Everything in life is about being at the right place at the right time," Butch told the largely orange-clad attendees. "Tennessee is at the right place at the right time."
Jones pointed to the improved talent on his roster as a key indicator of the program's resurgence. "We'll be youthful, but we'll be talented," Jones said. The roster features a 32-member freshman clash, all of whom are eligible to compete during their initial season on Rocky Top -- a fact Jones pointed to as a source of pride.
"Tell me another program," Jones boasted, "that signed 32 players and all 32 are eligible."
A standout member of that rookie group is running back Jalen Hurd, a Hendersonville, Tenn. native who is competing for early playing time. "[Hurd] is one of those individuals that don't come around often," Jones said. "He can get the tough yards but is also able to make guys miss. He's a difference-maker."
While Hurd hopes to lead the Vols' rushing attack, other newcomers are also stepping to the forefront. Jones pointed to Evan and Elliott Berry as two legacy players who have shown maturity in their short time at Tennessee.
"When the Berry twins walk around the complex, it's like they've been there for ten years," Jones said.
Tennessee's young squad will face some brutal early tests, including trips to Oklahoma and Georgia as well as home games against Alabama and Florida. But Jones pointed to the season-opener against Utah State as another difficult challenge, saying the Vols "have to be ready right out of the blocks."
Ultimately, though, the coach was full of hope for the program's future.
"My vision is that on gameday, the entire State of Tennessee stops and they come to Knoxville," Jones said. "We've got some work to do, but we're getting there."