The formation is cohesive and precise, like puzzle pieces sliding neatly into place.

In an instant though, this thick arrangement of feathered caps and brass instruments are quickly separated, opening up the floodgates for a stampeding mass of orange.

This thundering herd, however, requires a guide. A group that demonstrates leadership and provides a strong sense of direction in the midst of a chaotic environment of more than 100,000 rabid fans.

Meet four UT students and one exceptional dog who on a handful of fall Saturdays fill this role, while igniting one of the most iconic moments of a Tennessee football game day.

Together, Josh Thompson, Bert White, Tyler Fuqua and Evan Betterton make up the quartet of dog handlers in charge of leading Smokey X through the "T" of band members, with the throng of Volunteer football players following closely behind.

The four students are all members of Alpha Gamma Rho, the national agricultural fraternity that's officially cared for Smokey since 1977. For Thompson, a junior in English and president of AGR, he sees the longstanding relationship as a testament to the fraternity's upstanding qualities.

"I think it speaks to the kind of trust and the kind of light that the university sees AGR in," Thompson said. "They're able to believe that we can take care of UT's mascot the way we do.

"I think it really sheds light on the ability that they think we have to stay mature with everything, make the right choices and make sure that Smokey's getting the best care that he can."

For arguably the most recognizable Bluetick Coonhound around, though, that care requires strategic planning and careful time management.

On home weekends, Smokey's itinerary is rather extensive, and the four handlers must prepare for countless photos, numerous handshakes and many unexpected pit stops along way.

"We know along the way we're probably going to get stopped quite a few times for pictures and to talk and things like that," Thompson said. "So we really have to plan ahead.

"It can definitely get to be a little hectic, but it's a lot of fun."

On Fridays during the fall, one of the handlers picks up Smokey from the Hudson family, who for decades has been the permanent caregivers for both his predecessors and him.

After a stop at the AGR house and possibly a quick bath, it's off to Big Orange Pep Rallies, an event that takes place at various Food City locations in the area and allows fans to interact and snap pictures with the beloved dog.

"The farthest one away we went to was Sevierville," said White, a senior in advertising. "That'll last probably two hours, and after that we'll go back to the house. Smokey's usually pretty tired by then so he'll just fall asleep."

And that rest is well-needed come Saturday.

At the same time countless UT students are wrapping up their Friday night adventures, Smokey and his handlers are embarking on a multi-hour long journey that includes stops at many of the university's most festive pregame gatherings.

In 2013, the Vols had four home games that started before 12:30 p.m., so the game day schedule often began just moments after the sun peaked over Neyland Stadium.

"(For noon games) usually we'll be up and out of the house with Smokey ... by 8 a.m.," White said, "which is contrary to everything that's going on in the house. Everybody's sleeping until the last minute."

The first visit is made to Volunteer Village, which sits adjacent to HSS and provides a kid-friendly atmosphere leading up to kickoff.

Here, Smokey reaches celebrity status with the younger crowd as many of the children present experience their first encounter with the hound.

Meanwhile, the handlers mingle with large crowds of UT fans, often answering countless questions about the school's prestigious mascot.

"Half the time we just spend time talking to people about the Vols, answering questions about Smokey," White said. "You have to be really knowledgeable about the Smokey line and Smokey now. We all studied our Smokey history."

Up next is the Vol Walk, where Smokey again becomes a major attraction as he weaves his way through the vast sea of orange upon entering the stadium.

With the game quickly approaching, Smokey and his handlers relax for just a moment inside their own locker room that also houses the spirit squad. Any alterations to the in-game protocol are discussed, and everyone regroups one last time before kickoff.

"Usually we'll talk about if there's anything different going on, like if something different is happening at halftime that usually doesn't," White said. "Then we'll just get ready for the national anthem because right after that the band plays the V-O-L-S and makes the 'T.'"

For Thompson, the hectic mornings, chaotic hours and stressful mishaps all culminate at this final moment — when Smokey and his four handlers lead one of UT's most-heralded football traditions.

"When you're running out through the 'T,'" Thompson said, "all the stress is gone.

"The adrenaline rush and just the feeling of being connected to the university like that makes up for it."