Tennessee opens spring practice Friday, and there’s a sense of excitement around the program again. The Volunteers finished 5-7 a year ago, but second-year coach Butch Jones put together a top-five recruiting class that’s expected to come in and turn the program around. Fourteen of the 32 signees enrolled early and will participate this spring.
ESPN 300 linebacker Dillon Bates (Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla./Ponte Vedra) isn’t among the early enrollees, but he could still push for playing time when he gets on campus this summer. He took a few minutes this week to talk with us about the future of the Vols.
Q: You’ve talked with the coaches. Are they excited about the start of spring practice?
Dillon Bates: They are. They have high expectations for the guys who are coming in this freshman class. I’m really excited to get up there for a few practices just to see where they’re at, see how everybody looks and see how the competition is.
Q: What are the expectations heading into this season?
Bates: Just from talking with Coach Jones and Coach [Tommy] Thigpen, my linebackers coach, there are really high expectations. They set a high bar for the guys that are coming in. All we can do is just get better with the people that we have. We lost a lot of guys on the offensive line, and that’s probably going to be a place where we need to really focus a lot of our time. But really, it’s about getting better every day, giving our all every practice, and trying to get better.
Q: The coaches seem really high on this 2014 class. How good can it be?
Bates: This class is really good. Hopefully down the road, this is something they make a “30 for 30” on -- trying to rebuild this tradition of winning that Tennessee always has. It may take time. It may take a few more of these classes to come in and truly get everything rolling again, but this is the foundation. This is the starting box of something great. All of these players that are with us coming in have that mindset of getting Tennessee back to where it should be, so it won’t be long.
Q: Your dad (Bill Bates) played for Tennessee. What does it mean to follow in his footsteps?
Bates: Early on, I knew I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, so I’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s not going to be easy. There are going to be a lot of people comparing me to my dad and everything, but all I can do is focus on myself, focus on what I can do to make myself better and make myself as good as I can be. Hopefully, that will be as good as my dad was and maybe better.
Q: He’s a former NFL coach. How’d you like playing for him in high school?
Bates: It was great. He’s always been around coaching me and my brothers. There’s never been a time where I didn’t know football with my dad. I just remember going to some of his practices when I was young and watching him coach with the Cowboys and then here with the Jaguars. Just having that experience out on the field and that pro style around our practices has really helped in my preparation for the next level and everybody else’s. It’s been a blessing to have him around and to be able to be coached by him.
Q: Tennessee broke out the “Smokey” uniforms last year. What’d you think?
Bates: I really liked them. I really thought that they brought a lot of momentum to the program. It brought a lot of ‘wow’ factor. You can do a lot of things with those colors, and now that they signed that deal with Nike for 2015, I’m really excited about that. It’s really more of a recruiting tool because all of the guys that are looking at schools, they all take a hard look at what they’re going to get as in gear and what their jerseys are going to look like. With that new deal with Nike and the stuff that Adidas is giving us, it’s a really big part of future recruiting classes.
Q: Have you seen any new uniform combinations for this coming season?
Bates: I’ve seen a few new things. I don’t know if I can really explain them, but there are going to be some new things, some new surprises, coming next year and the years to come, so I’m really excited for it.