Tennessee Media Day gives players a break from grind

KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- Tennessee Football Media Day is not the cut-and-dry team photo day that you would expect when entering the gates of Neyland Stadium.

It's a day where you'll find Justin Hunter turning backflips for the camera. Rajion Neal singing "Rocky Top." Vols from all over the depth chart turning in legendary performances for the camera. Matt Milton attempting to style Tyler Bray's hair. It is a day for local and national media to gather elements that they will use throughout the 2011 season.

CBS Video Shoot - Lauricella Center - 3 p.m.
For some players, the day started a little earlier than others. Bray, Justin Hunter, Malik Jackson, Brent Brewer and others were selected to participate in a pair of video shoots for CBS Sports' coverage of the SEC. Various scenes shot with the players in the first session will appear on CBS broadcasts that the Vols are a part of, while shots from the second will be a part of the opening sequence for CBS's coverage of every SEC game.

For Brewer, in his second year at Tennessee after a stint in Minor League Baseball, the level of attention even on days like this is intense, and an extra level of motivation.

"It's unbelievable," the sophomore defensive back said. "It makes you want to work even harder for the fans. I can't wait for all of this to air for my family to see on national TV."

Senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson agreed as he walked between the two CBS shoots.

"Everybody is watching every Saturday on CBS," Jackson said. "I know my family will be watching every week back in California, but it's great that the whole country sees it. I'm glad to be a part of it."

Team Photo - East Stands - 4 p.m.
In the stands, the team and coaching staff assembled in numerical order for the traditional team photo. To speed the process, the Tennessee Media Relations staff labeled seats for all the players. Two guys that didn't need to consult their seat labels were sophomore kicker Michael Palardy and senior defensive lineman Ben Martin, numbers 1 and 99 in your programs, respectively. Palardy said having the first seat was the only natural advantage his jersey number came with. Martin had a bit more fun with it.

"That's the reason I picked the number," Martin said, tongue planted firmly in-cheek. "I just get to sit at the top and wait for everyone else to sit down."

The team photo also marks the only time all day that every person in attendance, players, coaches, staff and media are all in the same place. Media from every corner of the state assemble near the sideline to get their own shot of the 2011 edition of the Volunteers. From here the team splits between offense and defense, rotating between additional video shoots in the locker room and media interviews on the field.

UT Broadcasting Videoboard Shoot - Peyton Manning Locker Room Complex - 4:15 p.m.
Inside the space where 20 days later the Vols will put their game faces on for the opener against Montana, players were having a bit more difficulty with that game face for Barry Rice and his award-winning UT Broadcasting team.

"We've got to do the `tough guy' look," senior quarterback Matt Simms said.

The up-close video shots are used for starting lineups and other features on the videoboard at Neyland Stadium during home games and for player segments on Vol Network video broadcasts, such as the weekly "Derek Dooley Show." Keeping a serious look is difficult with half the team standing just beyond the camera's view.

"The guys are always behind you trying to say the most obvious thing they can to make you laugh," Simms said after his time in front of the camera had concluded. "Guys have a hard time keeping a straight face. That's why there's a huge line, they're taking their time, enjoying the fun while they can."

Offensive Staff and Player Interviews - Shields-Watkins Field - 4:30 p.m.
Back out on the field, Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney was meeting the media, one of his occasional appearances during fall camp. That is a stance that suits Chaney.

"I prefer one man speak for the program and I'm a big fan of that man's media policy," he said. "I'm popular with the media because I'm fresh, they don't get to talk to me every day. You could get anyone up in front of a camera to say what I say, everyone just loves it because it's different."

Tennessee players that speak to the media frequently relish the opportunity to go a little outside of the box on media day. Sophomore wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers said he loved showing off his more playful side on Media Day.

"It's fun," Rogers said. "We get to come out here and really tell people how we're feeling. These are the kind of interviews you can have fun with and joke around a little bit."

Martin missed Media Day a year ago after undergoing surgery for a torn Achilles two days before. Having the opportunity to participate was another step on his road back this season.

"It feels good just to be back out here with these young guys like this fine young receiver," Martin said, playfully pounding his fist on Rogers' shoulder pads." I'm so excited to play with him now, have him pushing me around."

Junior tight end Mychal Rivera was just hoping that no one in the media asked him to take on a role that his sister Naya is well known for - singer.

"I'm only halfway through the day, so you had better ask me on the way out," he said when asked if there had been any singing requests. "Don't give them any ideas. I know somebody will ask me to. I'm not doing it."

Rivera's sister is one of the stars of Fox's hit musical drama "Glee." Playing for Tennessee, with TV ties to CBS and ESPN means that both Rivera siblings can be found weekly on national television.

"It's real cool for my sister," Rivera said. "She's been an actress all her life and I'm really proud of her. I've played football all my life, that's what I do and she's really proud of me."

One player that didn't mind singing was junior linebacker Grant Jessen, whose performance for a News Sentinel camera will be talked about for Media Days to come. The session with the News Sentinel also featured a full standing backflip from sophomore wide receiver Justin Hunter, no small feat for someone that stands 6'4, and another vocal performance from sophomore tailback Rajion Neal, who belted out a rendition of "Rocky Top" that was uniquely his.

Vol Network Interviews - Wolf-Kaplan Center - 4:45 p.m.
For some at Media Day, it was a game of hurry up and wait. Such was the case for senior tailback Tauren Poole and Voice of Tennessee Athletics Bob Kesling while attempting to get in an interview for the Vol Network's pre-season preview. Across the room, sophomore defensive lineman Jacques Smith was finishing up a video interview with UTSports.com's Drew Edwards. But "finishing up" took a little longer than Poole and Kesling had planned on.

"That's Jacques for you, he talks a lot," Poole said. "We have to tell him to be quiet a lot. He means well."

"He's telling Drew his life story," Kesling said.

Poole said he was willing to wait on Smith, who he not only anticipates being a huge part of Tennessee in 2011, but also is playing a big part in Poole's development in fall camp.

"He's everywhere on the practice field," Poole said. "It's terrible to try to block him, but it makes me better. It makes every running back on this team better to try and block him in practice. You either get embarrassed or you do your job. I hope he plays that way during the season."

Stokely Family Media Center - 6:15 p.m.
Day finally done, Bray walks into the media center, still in full uniform, to grab the sandwich that he discussed coming for more than three hours before.

"Finally get to eat," he said. "Feels great to be done."


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