KNOXVILLE (UTSports.com) -- The Tennessee football team traveled to the Knoxville Police Department's Phil Keith Training Facility to take part in a KPD Training Day event Friday afternoon.
The Training Day, which is a component of UT football's Vol For Life (VFL) program, divided the team into six groups and sent them through six separate segments: a driving course, K-9 training, a live shoot house, SOS repelling, exploside ordinance disposal (EOD) training and other simulations.
"I've always felt like our football team has a responsibility in the community and how we represent it," head coach Derek Dooley said. "We're in a leadership position with our young people. The KPD and any police force is in the same boat from that standpoint. They have a leadership role and influence a lot of people. I just felt like it's important that we understand the role of the police, get educated on the job that they do, how they do it and the challenges that they have. I think that really allows us to work together in the community. I think that's important."
The UT football team and the KPD have worked together in the past, affording the Vols the opportunity to participate in ride-alongs. But Friday's events took things a step further in strengthening the relationship between the two.
"It's a continuing effort for the two groups that have so many similarities in how they operate," Dooley said. "There are a lot of decisions they have to make under pressure. There is a representation component in the community. There are a lot of eyes watching. There are so many similarities in what we do as football players and in what they do to protect our community. The more we understand each other, there becomes a greater appreciation. We're going to have to figure out a way to get them to our place and see how we can make something fun out of that."
Chief of Police David Rausch, who contacted Dooley about the idea, was not only excited about what took place Friday, but where the affiliation can go in the future.
"This was an opportunity to build some respect between athletics and the law enforcement community," Rausch said. "It's been a great day. We've done it with serious things going on but having a good time at it, which is very similar to how we train. We know how serious our job is but we also understand that we have to keep it light as we train. The guys on the team are having a great time out here with our folks. When Coach and I first met and talked about this, we realized we had a prime opportunity between the two of us to build a great relationship. This is the second step in this as we continue this and we're going to keep going."
When Dooley arrived more than a year ago, he established the VFL program, a comprehensive player enhancement program focused on developing the individual outside of football. Headed by Andre Lott, the program works with UT's football student-athletes to further their personal growth centered around four areas: character education, life skills, career development and spiritual growth.
"It's part of VFL," Dooley said of Friday's Training Day. "This is under our VFL umbrella, learning more than football and what they teach you in school. This is real life stuff right here. I hope this day right here is going to have an impact on every one of these young people when they get out of here and are in another town and have some other encounter or engagement with an authority figure. We do all the time. Once you develop that respect, you don't have that fear and you certainly know how to act because you appreciate the sensitivity and the pressure of the situation."
Sophomore offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James enjoyed the experience.
"I didn't know what to expect but it was a surprise because it was a lot of fun," James said. "I watched a couple of guys run from the dogs so then I went ahead and put on the suit and did it too. The people out here were friendly. Everybody had fun and it was a nice, laid-back environment."
One of the six segments of the day, the Vols were given an opportunity to don a full-body padded suit and run from a K-9 dog. Senior tailback Tauren Poole, who is used to dodging tacklers in full pads, declined the chance, but admitted it was his favorite part. Poole also relished the opportunity to spend time with the local law enforcement.
"It definitely helped a lot," Poole said. "I'm just glad that we got to come out here and bond a little bit and get to know every single last one of these cops that are great people. It's phenomenal just to get to know them."