The annual SEC Media Days signifies the upcoming college football season is quickly approaching.
But before Tennessee coach Derek Dooley could begin his second year with the Volunteers, he wanted to dismiss any notions that inexperience would be a reason the team struggles this fall, noting around 70 percent of UT's players this season will be freshmen and sophomores.
"What I felt like was important when we turned the page from last year was we had to present this data to our football team and make a decision from the beginning that we weren't going to allow youth to be an excuse for failure," Dooley said Thursday. "And we're not going to do that."
After starting last season 2-6, the Vols rallied to win their last four regular-season games, earning a bid to the Music City Bowl where they suffered a controversal overtime loss to North Carolina. Coupled with the fact that Dooley was the Vols' third different head coach in three seasons, the sense of pride UT teams once had seemed to be lost.
"I do believe that we lost our way a little bit in understanding what it means to play for Tennessee and what 'Power T' represents," Dooley said. "So we have spent an inordinate amount of time educating our team, talking to our young players about what Tennessee stands for and what the standard is. There's a high standard of winning, there's a high expectation in how we represent the program.
"(Former UT tight end) Jason Witten was just in town the other day and he made the comment that 'Power T' to him was a symbol of excellence. I think that summed it up."
The SEC has certainly been the symbol of excellence in college football in recent years, claiming the past five BCS National Champions, but Dooley said he can't be focused on what the other teams in the league are doing.
"What I can't do is concern myself with where the other programs are," he said. "We have to concern ourselves with where we are as a program, and each week try to figure out a way to beat that team because we only have to be better than them on one day of the year."
Senior tailback Tauren Poole, one of only 10 seniors on the team, understands how tough the conference is, and knows preparing for an SEC schedule extends into the off-season.
"This is a hard league to play in and we've definitely got to be professionals as Coach Dooley reiterates every single day," Poole said. "We've got to be prepared to win. Winning doesn't start in August, it starts in the summer."
With so many new faces arriving this summer, becoming a winning team has involved bumps in the road, according to senior defensive lineman Malik Jackson.
"It makes it really tough because a lot of the young guys don't know what to expect, so we've got to get them going and get them in place," Jackson, a pre-season coaches' All-SEC first team member, said. "They're learning as fast as they can. The seniors and older guys are trying to teach them. Until they get to the first game they probably won't know how hard it is. But they're coming along well."
But even with the season's kickoff a little over a month away, Dooley just wants the young Vols to focus on one day at a time.
"I think at the end of the day all I've ever asked this team, once we turn the page, was to come to work every day and try to make the program, the organization, themselves better today than it was yesterday."
— Matt Dixon is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @MattDixon3.