The Final School Soccer Highway Journey takes on Tennessee

By Charlotte Wilder
FOX Sports activities Columnist  

Tennessee vs. Florida is at all times an enormous deal for Vol Nation.

Together with Alabama, the Gators are the Volunteers’ greatest rivals, to the purpose the place Tennesseeans make a degree to cook dinner and eat alligators when Florida is on the town. I respect the dedication to the bit. And since I’m heading to Knoxville this week ahead of this matchup, I’ll must attempt it (there’s a primary for all the things).  

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However this yr, the rivalry takes on new that means. As a result of in 2022, Tennessee is definitely good. In actual fact, Tennessee is so good that it’s undefeated and at the moment ranked No. 11 in the country. That is the Vols’ greatest begin since going 5-0 in 2016 (which, I’m informed, was six years in the past, however feels prefer it was at the least 15).

This yr is decidedly completely different, and I’ll attempt to not jinx it as I clarify why. Final yr, the Vols went 7–6 total and 4–4 in-conference underneath first-year head coach Josh Heupel. The yr earlier than that, they went 3-7. The yr earlier than that, they went 8-5. You get the image. The final nationwide championship win for Tennessee got here in 1998, which was — wanna really feel outdated? — a number of years earlier than many of the gamers on this yr’s group have been born. 

So that is the primary time shortly that almost all faculty soccer followers shall be paying shut consideration to this traditional SEC combat as the sport kicks off on Saturday. And I’m fortunate sufficient to soak up the total expertise beginning on Wednesday.

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I’ll inform you what I’m wanting ahead to whereas I’m on the town, however I’d actually love your enter. The place does our crew must eat whereas we’re in Knoxville? What landmark can’t I miss? Who’s the largest tremendous fan you already know? 

Tweet at me or find me on Instagram, as a result of I wish to see the Tennessee that you simply see. I would like the within scoop. 

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The precise soccer  

Since 2004, the Volunteers have solely defeated Florida as soon as.  

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As soon as! In 18 years! That’s the identical age as a few of the gamers on the group! My goodness!  

That singular win got here in 2016. So it’s secure to say that everybody in Knoxville might use a W towards the Gators. And as I made clear above, that is the primary yr the place it looks like there’s an opportunity. The Vols’ QB, Hendon Hooker, not solely has one of the best title for a Tennessee quarterback, however he additionally has one of the best arm. It’s his sixth yr in a school program … 

… and he’s been main the Vols to assertion wins. A number of of Tennessee’s offensive group stats rank within the prime 10 within the nation throughout the season’s first three weeks: complete factors, points-per-game, dashing touchdowns and touchdowns.

Florida is 2-1, so hopefully, the sport shall be thrilling. However these Gators are nonetheless determining who they’re underneath new head coach Billy Napier. If ever Tennessee had a window, that is it.

Vol Navy  

The one factor that would make a school soccer tailgate higher is that if that pregame celebration passed off on the water throughout 450 rafted-up boats — which is strictly what occurs on the Tennessee River earlier than soccer video games.  

I’m hoping I’ll have the prospect to tour a number of of the boats, possibly even go for a trip and see simply how this navy of Vols followers exhibits out. This additionally could be the one time that the embarrassingly huge encyclopedia of cruising data I accrued rising up in New England may intersect with my precise job. 

Being in Dolly Parton’s dwelling state

That’s it. That’s the entire thing. 

Smokey 

I’m somewhat confused as to how I haven’t been to Knoxville earlier than, as a result of not solely do they tailgate on the water, their mascot is an lovely canine. The one factor I like greater than boats and canine is meals, and I hear the town has some nice choices in that division, too. Undecided what extra a woman might ask for. 

However again to Smokey. This lovely Bluetick Coonhound — initially named Blue Smokey, after the mountains — has represented the Vols since 1953. Canine clearly don’t stay that lengthy, as a lot as we want they did, so we’re at the moment on Smokey X. Smokey X is passing the torch to Smokey XI this yr, and if I’m fortunate, I’d be capable of spend time with each. 

There are statues of every Smokey dotted about Knoxville. I’m not large on statues of people as a result of I feel they at all times look somewhat unusual and are, as a rule, devoted to the fallacious individuals. However in terms of statues of canine, I couldn’t be extra in favor of a monument. In actual fact, each metropolis needs to be full of statues of canine. Canine are so good. Tennessee is aware of what’s up in terms of correctly remembering canines.

Sinan the Squirrel  

Going actually heavy on the animals this week, however have you ever seen this man?

I’ve extra questions than solutions at this level, so I’ll simply say that if all goes effectively, I’ll be capable of report again. 

Neyland Stadium 

I’ve at all times wished to see the checkerboard finish zones. Do you know it takes 120 gallons of orange and white paint to make them occur? This can even be one of many video games the place “Checker Neyland” is in full pressure, the place the stadium supplies t-shirts for every part in order that the group seems to be like a checkerboard, too. Very into a robust visible at a soccer recreation. 

I can’t await Tennessee. However within the meantime, try what I did at my final cease on the tour, in Austin for Texas vs. Alabama:

Frolicked with Large Bertha, a 100-year-old drum:

Ate tacos with Reyna Vazquez, the founding father of Veracruz (greatest breakfast tacos I’ve ever had):

And requested individuals why Arch Manning selected Texas over Bama:

Thanks, as at all times, for following my adventures on the earth of school soccer. It’s such a privilege to convey you together with me. 

Charlotte Wilder is a basic columnist and cohost of “The People’s Sports Podcast” for FOX Sports activities. She’s honored to signify the continuously uncared for Boston space in sports activities media, loves speaking to sports activities followers about their emotions and is happiest consuming a hotdog in a ballpark or nachos in a stadium. Comply with her on Twitter @TheWilderThings.


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