The Pride of the Southland Band has a lot on its plate this Saturday.
The Pride, which was founded in 1869 as a small pep band, has grown into a Tennessee institution and a welcome sight in Neyland Stadium. On Saturday, the band will perform many of Tennessee's greatest traditions, including the Salute to the Hill.
"The Hill is the most historic part of campus," said Grant Story, a band member and junior in the music program.
Freshmen members of the band are particularly excited for Saturday's game.
"Some people are nervous, but not me. You just have to know your stuff," Michael Pass, freshman in music, said. "It's all about getting in the zone."
The most well-known tradition is opening the T at the end of pre-game. Story emphasized that Neyland is different from any other stadium, and when the band opens the T, it gets loud. For first-timers, it can be an inspiring experience.
"It's going to be the first time I get to open the T, so that's pretty exciting," said Pass. "It makes me proud to be from Tennessee."
Dr. Gary Sousa, director of bands, believes the Pride can change the outcome of the game. The band will do everything it can to energize the crowd. Despite the hard work that goes into a successful game day performance, band members are excited to play their best and show Tennessee fans a good time.
"We've got a lot of faithful fans," said Story. "It's the first time many of them get to hear Rocky Top this season."
The Pride of the Southland has also had a surge in membership this year. Better upperclassman retention and a healthy freshman class have boosted the band's numbers to 330 players on the field.
"Most people want to be there, they work really hard, and it's fast paced," said Pass. "They expect a whole lot more than high school band."
Local recruitment at area high schools and a performance at the Knox County Marching Band Exhibition last fall showed incoming freshmen that the band is a great way to make friends and get involved on campus.
However, practice has not made it easier for members trying to cope with the heat. "The heat can make it hard to do your best," Story said, "but if you stay hydrated and wear the right clothing, you'll be fine."
Student safety is the band's first priority. Faculty members have given the students frequent water breaks and advice on how to stay cool and hydrated.
Despite the heat, Story looks forward to this year's marching season.
"A bigger band means everyone is competing for a spot, so everyone is on their A-game," Story said, summing up the Pride's attitude. "It's great to be a part of the band and directly involved with the tradition of Tennessee football."