It’s a phrase right there with best of clichés: senior leadership.
Only in Tennessee’s case during the biggest week of its football season, UT’s version of veteran players providing confidence, courage and sound judgment -- or, seniors showing leadership qualities -- just might be making a difference.
“They’ve all probably had one of their best weeks; that’s generally how it is,” head coach Derek Dooley said of his seniors after Wednesday’s workout at Haslam Field. “But nothing’s been out of the norm and that’s how I like it. It’s the next game, it’s a good opponent, we have to be at our best to have a chance to win it, and hopefully we will.”
Dooley says the formula has been two simple words approaching this week’s SEC showdown against Kentucky.
“Routine and message. One, we haven’t changed anything we’re doing. Two, just reminding them where our minds need to be. And that’s on what do I need to do today to help me prepare so I can play well Saturday and I can go out with confidence. That’s all we’ve been trying to focus on.”
Dooley knows it’s a week filled with distractions, and not merely those from watching film of Kentucky’s vaunted offensive game-breakers.
“We’ve got to have a good day tomorrow. There are a lot of distractions tomorrow: Thursday practice, the (practice) time moves up, everybody’s thinking about what they’re going to have for Thanksgiving dinner, last practice of the regular season. So it’s important that we come out tomorrow and focus in, lock it in pretty good.
“We’ve had a better week of practice than we did last week, that’s for sure. They been into it, but we’ve got to finish it tomorrow.”
Tennessee’s hopes of reaching a bowl game rest on Saturday’s result, with the Vols (5-6) needing one more victory for postseason eligibility. Kentucky (6-5), meanwhile, already has the requisite number of wins and desperately wants to end its 25-year losing streak to Tennessee. The Wildcats were idle last week while Tennessee dispatched Vanderbilt in Nashville by a 24-10 score.
Dooley said the injuries around his locker room appear minor and look to be getting better.
“We’ve had some guys banged up and I think we’re recovering. A lot of guys we’ve been kind of limiting out there, and hopefully it will help on Saturday. This is the sixth game in a row since the open date, but everybody’s like that in college football.
“We keep working and we keep lifting and your body gets stronger. A lot of it’s mental, so hopefully we’ll be ready. Everybody across the country is banged up; that’s how it is.”
TEAM HONORS THREE WITH CAPTAIN’S ROLE
Dooley said Wednesday that the team this week elected Tauren Poole, Nick Reveiz and Luke Stocker to the position of 2010 captains.
“I like doing it at the end of the year because I’m trying to promote leadership throughout the year,” Dooley said of the team vote. “It’s a great honor.
“I told the team before they voted that there are several qualities they should look for in a captain. One of them, of course, is doing your job. You’re putting it all in with great passion and the team can count on you to do your job every day. The second thing is your ability to affect others in a positive way. How does that person not only do his job but also help others to do their job. And then third, that he represents all the values of the organization and gives it to the team.”
Poole is sixth in the SEC in rushing with an 85.0-yard average and 935 yards overall. He is tied for the conference lead with six 100-yard games and just missed a seventh last weekend at Vanderbilt, gaining 99.
Reveiz ranks eighth in the SEC with 86 tackles, including double-digit totals five times this season. He was the first Vol since Jerod Mayo in 2007 to have four straight games of 10 or more tackles.
Stocker was one of 12 semifinalists for the John Mackey Award given to the nation’s top tight end. He is the lone Vol with a pass reception in every game this season and has 29 catches for 304 yards and a touchdown.
“Those three guys, they fit all those criteria,” Dooley said. “So I think the team made some great decisions.”