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August 16, 2014
'Third Down For What' ignites Vols, crowd
Butch Jones was in his ringmaster element.
Standing at the 50-yard line, surrounded by 40,000 orange-clad fans under a setting sun Saturday inside Neyland Stadium, Tennessee's second-year head coach explained over the loud speaker a new NCAA rule allowing music to be piped into college football stadiums while the ball isn't in play.
On third down, Jones explained stadium-wide, Neyland will be drowned in Lil' Jon's 'Turn Down for What' --- changed to 'Third Down for What' on the jumbotron --- and hearing the song is the cue for Tennessee fans to create an even louder than normal home-field advantage.
"We've got a new little system on third down," receiver Von Pearson explained. "Since we did that new third down, Coach Jones told the crowd about it, I felt like they got turned up.
"When they get turned up, we feel like we can play better. So that helped a lot."
As for the song, that was a team decision.
"We all picked that song," Pearson said. "We all know what time it is when that song comes on.
"We've got to go hard and get that third down or first down."
Jones worked his team out for a little under two hours in front of the fans, barking on the microphone as he called out players who weren't meeting his patented 'standard and expectation' or praising those making plays.
Explaining the rule change to those looking on, Jones said, was just another element of his team's preparation for the season-opener against Utah State, a little over two weeks away.
"That's going to be a big change," Jones said, "especially with us when we go on the road, with the new rule change of piped in crowd noise.
"Our players need to learn how to play with that, learn how to block out the distractions."
Pearson, a junior college transfer from tiny Feather River Community College in Quincy, Calif., said he passed the noise test.
"It didn't distract me at all," he said, "it just made me play a little better."
No distractions, even if there were roughly 38,800 more people watching than he's accustomed to.
"My junior college, we only had about 200 people at the game," Pearson said. "This is only practice. I played in the spring game, there was quite a few people there too.
"It's a big difference, right?"
A big difference for most of this Tennessee roster, including the 32 signees from the 2014 signing class.
"Half of our team walked in here tonight," Jones said, "and they're like, 'boy, this is the largest crowd I've ever played in front of.'
"So when they got the energy going on third down, kind of a new thing we're going to do, that was great to see."
An estimated crowd of just over 39,000 turned out for last year's open practice, with rain pouring down most of the night.
Cam Sutton was a wide-eyed freshman for that workout last August. A year later, after starting all 12 games in 2013, he was one of the veterans helping steer the fresh faces in the right direction.
"We don't have our full crowd, but the guys that came out tonight did a great job with the noise and the atmosphere," Sutton said. "Just getting them accustomed to just playing in a louder environment that they're not used to in high school.
"Throughout the week I just kind of preached to them, don't let it overwhelm you. Take it one step at a time, one play at a time, and they'll be fine."
Freshman linebacker Dillon Bates watched the Orange & White Game in April, before enrolling in May. Watching and being in the middle of it, he said, are two different things.
"It kind of had a similar atmosphere," Bates said. "It definitely gets you acclimated to what it will be like for game day.
"It will be double this for game day."
Double the energy, too. Starting with 'Third Down for What' on the command of the head coach.
"Playing here, I felt more electric," Pearson said. "I feel like I can do better things, I feel like I have better energy. I feel like I played a full game.
"You always get that nervous feeling," he added. "Not that nervous feeling like you're scared. That nervous feeling like, 'let's go.'"