November 22, 2012
Class of class won't be forgotten
Saturday, Tennessee will say farewell to 13 seniors. It's a group that unfortunately is going to be remembered for what they didn't do and not anything they did accomplish.
They will finish their careers with one win over a ranked opponent and they will be more known for their near wins than their victories. In 2009, Alabama blocked their game-winning field goal attempt. In 2010, Tennessee lost after having 13 men on the field at LSU on the final play. And this group of Vols lost the bowl game to UNC on a clock ruling that can no longer exist thanks to an NCAA rule.
This season, the Vols couldn't win in final possessions against Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri; they had the ball and a chance for the lead at Mississippi State with five minutes to go in that contest.
It's not the results that any of the seniors wanted when they signed with the Vols. And their experience in a Tennessee uniform is not what anyone would want. It's been a journey that no one would wish on a college football player.
There's no question that there will be more difficult life experiences for them down the road and the challenges they have experienced the last five years will certainly allow them to handle it better.
There's no question that improved play on the field by the players could have made the experience better, but no player should have to endure what this group of seniors has had to deal with the last five years.
"When you look at what all has happened, I think it has made us better men," linebacker Herman Lathers said. "We enjoy life and understand it's a business."
For the Vols, it's been ugly business.
Over the last five seasons, the Vols are 27-34. They have lost 28 SEC games. They lost to both Vanderbilt and Kentucky. All unforgettable. But here's the numbers that no one should forget when remembering the 2012 senior class.
And that's the number 36.
That's the number of coaches (37 if you count Kippy Brown) who have passed through Knoxville during the five years the seniors have been here. For four-year players that number is 27. There have been four defensive coordinators, four offensive line coaches, and five different defensive line coaches to go with three different head coaches and two interim head men. And that doesn't count the fact that this group has had five different strength coaches.
It's an ugly side to college football that no athlete should have to endure. And that gets me to my point about the 13 seniors who will run through the "T" for the final time on Saturday.
They should be applauded and respected by all Tennessee fans. They should be held in high regard by the Big Orange faithful because that's exactly what they did to the program in their time at Tennessee.
Despite all these hardships and disappointments, none of those who will individually pass through the human corridor of the Pride of the Southland Band on Saturday has ever embarrassed the program. None has lashed out publicly at the hand he was dealt. None of them has made any negative news off the field.
Although Lathers, who has also dealt with serious injury, did admit this week that there were times he just thought it wasn't worth what he and the seniors have had to endure.
"I think everyone has those moments, especially when you have injuries and go through all the things that we have," Lathers said. "As a leader on this team, as a strong person as I have always been, I learned to fight through stuff and I learned to put those things in the back of my mind and just move on. Things happen. You just have to be a better man and rise up above it."
Better men might be the best way to describe the Vol senior class, and rise up is what the Vol faithful who are in attendance on Saturday should do to say thank-you to a group who had to handle more life lessons in the game they love than anyone should have to try to overcome.
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