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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Vol Nation as stayed tried and true to the Vols through the 2013 season which has been filled with ups and downs. Butch Jones made sure to point out he appreciates what he calls the 'best fans in America.'
"I would like to thank our fan base. Outstanding. We are up in attendance," Jones began his Tuesday press conference. "Especially our student body, we are up over 2,000 students per game. That is something that we really take great pride in with our student body.
"I think this is a great opportunity today to say thank you to them and thank you to our great fan base for supporting this football team. We are going to need their support moving forward."
Tennessee's overall game attendance is up 6.2 percent in 2013 to 95,584 from 89,965 last season. Neyland Stadium's average attendance is sixth in the nation in 2013. A total of 669,087 have passed through the turnstiles at Neyland.
The players understand the impact of the fans and what it means to represent the University of Tennessee.
"I'm most thankful for Vol Nation," said senior Marlon Walls. "It means the world to me. It has been a blessing. You take things like that for granted, but knowing Tennessee's tradition it's a blessing to walk out on that field, it's a blessing to have great fans like we do. Through the ups and downs, they've been consistent. They back us through losses and wins. My hat is off to them.
"I love them, I'll never forget them and I respect them for just showing love over the tough years. I love Vol Nation and appreciate everything they've done for us."
Senior running back Rajion Neal is just 10 yards away from hitting the 1,000-yard running mark.
When he accomplishes the feat this Saturday, Neal will be the first Tennessee running back since Montario Hardesty in 2009 (in a regular-season). Tauren Poole reached 1,000 yards in the Vols' bowl game during the 2010 campaign.
Neal is ready.
"It is exciting," said Neal. "I think it is a big privilege to be a back in this league and reach a goal like that. I have a lot of help from my guys on the perimeter and definitely the guys up front. It is something that I feel that we all deserve, it is something that we are all looking forward to, it is on the front of our minds, we are hungry for it and we can't wait."
The goal was set prior to the 2013 season for Neal and could only be accomplished with belief from his coaches that he could achieve it.
It could also only be accomplished with a change from within.
"I just started to realize [a difference in me] in the spring with the new staff," said Neal. The competition was starting back up in the position was open. Going into my last year and knowing that we haven't had a back to rush for 1,000 yards in the regular season, in 12 games since Montario Hardesty, that was a big thing for me, something that drove me, that fueled me. I definitely wanted to leave a mark here."
Neal has already left a mark on the Tennessee record books. Against Vanderbilt Neal broke the 2,000 yard rush mark, just the 14th Vol to achieve the feat.
Neal is also on the second Vol to rush for over 2,000 yards and catch 600+ yards during his career.
He doesn't take those records lightly and has worked hard to earn those yards.
"The way that I look at the game, how serious I take it.," said Neal. "How much I dissect film and outside of playing ball, how much I look at other guys and how they play the game and take notice of little details. I have grown to respect the game and love it way more."
"Hopefully [in a year I will] still playing ball," said Neal. "Only God knows where I am headed."
With 27 Vols capping their careers at Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday night, many have begun reflecting on their legacies in the Orange and White.
It hasn't been the easiest of roads for any senior on the Vols' roster, but defensive lineman Marlon Walls believes there was a purpose behind it.
"Honestly, I think God chose us to go through it," said Walls. "It was our destiny, as much as we don't like it. I guess he thought we were strong enough to do it in order for this program to get back where it's supposed to be.
"Even though this season was a disappointment, I think for the young guys it opened up their eyes and we pushed them in a positive way and they pushed us. I think next year they'll be very motivated, very hungry and will refuse to let happen what happened to us. I hope it's motivation to them."
Fellow defensive front man Corey Miller said he wanted to be remembered for his hustle and as a guy that truly gives his all for Tennessee.
"I would hope it would be that I am a guy that tries to bring energy," said Miller. "I tell (Corey) Vereen all the time don't let what is going on this year dictate what goes on next year. Be the guy that starts it off from the jump. Be the guy that is giving energy. Be the guy that is leading the team."
Miller and Walls also wanted to leave special messages for the younger members of Team 117.
"I tell myself every day, if I would have known back then what I know now, I would have done a little bit more," said Miller. "I guess that is the message - tell these guys to do a little extra because time flies by. You don't understand it until it is gone."
In his message, Walls stressed the true importance of being a Tennessee Vol.
"Realize what it means to play at Tennessee," said Walls. "I want them to click-up this offseason and never let happen what happened to us in our four or five years of being here. I want them to realize what power you hold putting that jersey on and who is watching.
"It goes way back before us. There's a standard to be upheld. Respect that T and get it back to where it's supposed to be. That's the main mission. Get Tennessee back on top."
There is a fact that is on every single mind of the members of Team 117 this week.
It looms heavily on the mind of redshirt senior defensive lineman Marlon Walls.
Walls does not want to be a member of the only team in Tennessee history to have eight losses.
"It's very important," said Walls. "We don't want to go out like that. That is what's at stake right now. We know we're a good team; we know we can go out and get it done Saturday. We refuse to letthat happen. We're going to work this week and use that as motivation."
The Vols entered last season's game with Kentucky in the same situation, but had home field advantage. This year, they are headed up 75 to Lexington with a lot of motivation.
"That's very motivational," said Walls. "We refuse to be the first team that loses eight games in Tennessee history. This goes way back;it's way more important than us. We have to hold the bar. The bar has been set for us the past few years so it's time for us to go to work."
The Vols have added motivation in beating Kentucky on the road as they look to continue their win-streak against the Wildcats after it ended two years ago in Lexington.
"That was terrible," said senior center James Stone. "That is something that we will never forget. That is something that haunts you when you have a loss like that and you end a streak like that at the end of the year."
"It is something that we want to get back and end this season with a win so these guys can go into the offseason with a win.”=
Here are sound bites from Coach Jones and the players after Tuesday's practice.
»(On Joshua Dobbs)
"I thought he attacked the day. Everything with Josh is just a high level of consistency,consistency in performance and everything that he does. Not only on game day but it starts in practice, the accuracy with the football, the overall command of the offense, the leadership requirements that it takes to play quarterback here in terms of being the alpha male of the offense. He is still going through that maturation phase of being a true freshman without spring football."
»(On Dobbs' intensity)
"He has intensity but sometimes it is not as outward as we would like it to be. It is a growth and maturation process. Again, it is being a true freshman. A lot of times you have the luxury of redshirting or you enroll early and you go through spring football so you are really not a true freshman. He is a true freshman. I think everything is magnified, it is a process. He is a young individual in a program that has much scrutiny and a lot of attention. That is part of being the quarterback and being in that position here at Tennessee."
»(On the seniors emotional mindset)
"I don't think it is a distracting mindset. You have to be able to bottle your emotions and really not worry about that. But it also lets you know that it means something to them. I have said it all year that the hour glass is turned over, the only difference is that the sand is really accumulated now. Everything comes to an end.
"Each day is one step closer to them finishing their careers at Tennessee. So you have to keep it in perspective but sometimes that is healthy because it lets you know that it is pretty special playing football here."
»(On Avery Williamson)
"The mark of any great football player is instincts. He has tremendous instincts, great energy and passion to get to the football. He is tough and been very impressed. Healso plays on some special teams for them. He is a very good football player. You have to know where he is at on the field all the time."
»(On maintaining poise)
"It isn't tough, it is required as a quarterback. They look to you when things are going back and things are going good. So as a quarterback you have to have a snap and clear mentality and look forward."
»(On moving on from Vanderbilt)
"It is just the same of every week. Sunday watch the game, come in and view it with the coaches and players, see where we could have done better, see where we did good, and start focusing on the Kentucky game."
» (On his goals for this week)
"Same as it always has been. I am extremely confident in my skills, I just have to go out and execute."
»(On finishing his career at Tennessee)
"It hasn't really hit me yet. I was just telling Jacques after we finished practice, that was thelast Tuesday. That is kind of one of those blank stares. At the end of thisweek you don't put the power T on again. It is something that I feel is going to hit me walking off the field in Kentucky. It is going to be one of thoseemotional deals."
»(On the motivation against Kentucky)
"Just my guys. I come out here and have a positive attitude, we are having fun, we are rolling. I am looking at my senior in Marlon Walls and he is saying that he needs some energy and I am like this is the last week and you have to find some from somewhere. I am just trying to have fun with it and play for my boys."
»(On pressuring the quarterback)
"We haven't had the pressure on the quarterback that we should have been getting. But this week it is a different mentality, a different mindset. Just come out there and playball. Don't worry about a thing, just go out there and play."
»(On leaving the season with a win)
"It is big. Me and a lot of the seniors have formed a great bond with some of the freshmen like the one behind you now spinning the ball, Ferguson. You want to leave those guys with something to remember, something to be proud of. You want to send those guys on the right way. Youwant they to keep up with you and be excited to see you when you come back. You want them to call you and you want to be able to call them and they will pick up when you check on them. That is big."
»(On the senior's legacy)
"Our legacy is strong. We have persevered through a lot. Not easily broken. But I feel like we are a strong team. We have been through a lot and we are going to finish 1-0, set Teams 118 and on to build something great."
»(On setting his goals prior to the season)
"Definitely set it. To be a 1,000-yard back in this league says a lot about the guys up front and the guys on the perimeter that block out there for you. It says a lot about the coaches letting me touch the ball that many times to accomplish something like that."
»(On handling Coach Gillespie's challenges as an underclassmen)
"I think so but it definitely would have been more bumps in the road, more headbutting. Over the time I have matured, I have understood and learned more about the game, I don't know if I would change anything about it."
»(On the mindset going into Kentucky)
"I just look at it as another chance to compete and go play football. Unfortunately, last week didn't go like we wanted it to go. If you have any kind of heart, if you're any kind of competitor these games still mean something to you."
»(On the game plan going into Kentucky)
"They've got a quarterback that likes to run. You know, we've kind of struggled with that this year. So we've got to try and take that out of the game for them. If we can do that, you know we'll be okay."
»(On advice for the younger players)
"Honestly, just letting them know that time flies. You know, you may be a freshman now, but you turnaround, you do a 360 and you're a senior. You notice time doesn't wait on anyone. You know we got to seize the moment right now."
»(On the loss against Vanderbilt)
"It was pretty bad. We felt bad for our seniors. We just didn't go out the right way. We felt like we should have won that game so it was overall a bad situation."
»(On if the defense is frustrated with the offensive struggles)
"No we just know that if our offense is struggling we have to be able to put them on our back and be able to make plays. If we get picks we have to take it to the house and capitalize on their offensive mistakes and help them out a little bit."
»(On what he is thankful for)
"I am thankful to be able to make it through another season. I don't have to be on the couch this year watching it. I am thankful for that."
»(On getting pressure on the QB this week)
"It's very important. I'm challenging myself this week to lay it on the line. It's my last time in the Orange and White so just lay it on the line. This is the highlight of your life - you'll never forget these moments. It would mean a lot to go out and hit the quarterback a couple times. That's the plan... Just lay it on the line this week."
»(On the reason for a decrease in sacks)
"I think somewhere we just lost focus of what Coach (Steve) Stripling was teaching us, as far as technique goes. And of course guys have been banged up. It felt good this past Saturday hitting the quarterback a few times. It was a sigh of release to know we still go it. You just have to believe in your techniques and what coach tells you to do. Somehow we lost our way."
»(On the younger offensive lineman stepping up next year)
"I feel they are in pretty good position right now. They have been working hard ever since Coach Jones and staff got here. We are in pretty good position."
»(On the offensive line)
"They are always going to be good. The offensive line at Tennessee is always going to be good. I have faith in that."
»(On what he is thankful for)
"To be alive and to wake up every day and be healthy."
»(On Kentucky)
"Very talented football team. They are in the same predicament as us, they have nothing tolose. They are probably going to do the same things that we are going to do, just go out and play football and try to win the football game. Just like we are."
»(On describing his career at Tennessee)
"Adversity. That is one word. It is not everything I imagined but it is everything that is going to make me a better man. I just can't wait until the future and see what Tennessee football does because we have done a lot of things to change the path even though we have been through a struggle lately. There is a bright future ahead for Tennessee."
»(On when he starting playing football)
"Football, I was in the seventh grade. The previous year I didn't go out and all my friends played and they all kept asking me to. I was a huge Tennessee fan and I never dreamed of actually playing football because my family was a basketball family. I decided to go out that summer and now I am here."



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