JACKSONVILLE, FL – Butch Jones knows making a bowl game was an important brick for in rebuilding the Tennessee football program. However, the coach also knows that it is even sweeter after the type of season Jones’ Vols had in 2014.
“It has been the most challenging year in coaching, but also the most rewarding year that I have had in coaching,” Jones said during Wednesday’s press conference. The theme was the `Power of One.’ We had to focus on one day at a time, one play at a time, one opponent at a time, one week at a time and really be able to zero in on the bullseye.”
To add to the challenge, it wasn’t a senior-laden team.
“When you look at the inordinate amount of freshmen, we are the youngest football team in college football and played arguably the most difficult schedule in college football,” Jones said. “When we embarked on this journey, we talked about the power of one for us to keep our focus we had to manage the natural adversity and preserve on a long college football season brings about and going about it with about half of your team not going through that before.”
The fruit of the labor is Tennessee’s first bowl game since 2010 when the Derek Dooley led Vols played in Nashville’s Music City bowl, a game that left a bitter taste in the fan of many Tennessee supporters. The wait, however, has left the Tennessee faithful hungry for postseason play as they gobbled up the full 8,000-ticket allotment the athletic department received.
That hunger is also present in the football team, and Jones know the difference between playing and winning in a bowl game.
“At the end of the day, I told our football team this, it’s one thing to be a participant in the bowl, its another thing to win the bowl,” Jones said. “We have to lock in now and focus and do what it takes to play winning football. Everyone is responsible for their own self determination and I like what I have seen so far.”
The Vols earned praise from Jones for the maturity
“We spoke about how we have to be a mature football team and understand bowl preparation and accountability,” Jones said. “To date, knock on wood, we haven’t had anybody be late, they been 10-15 minutes early. When we arrived in Jacksonville, I put it on a number of individuals, I thought it was a tremendous opportunity for leadership, starting with Josh, starting with Curt and they have answered the call. I think the big thing is learning how to enjoy yourself, but focus on the task at hand and get the work done. The players have had a workman-like approach each and every day. They have come very focused.”
Kickoff for the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville is set for 3:20 p.m.