MILLIGAN COLLEGE, Tenn. - When Tennessee hit the practice field at Milligan College for the first time on Monday, head coach Derek Dooleywas looking for a different kind of leadership than he has been getting out of his squad.
Although the Vols have clearly become a tightly-knit unit, thanks in part to a variety of team-bonding activities including a hike to the top of Mt. LeConte and whitewater rafting on the Pigeon River over the summer and a karaoke session on Sunday night, that is only one part of the equation.
Now, Dooley wants that unity to carry over to the gridiron as the initial excitement for the start of training camp has slowly waned and the soreness from Saturday’s scrimmage has quickly sunk in.
“This is when leadership starts getting tested,” Dooley said. “We have great team chemistry, a lot of good camaraderie going on, but we don’t need leadership when it is open mic night and we’re up there singing and rapping. We need leadership when it hurts and some guys are struggling.
“Part of that is when you are struggling and you need a little leadership to talk to your buddy and have him help pull you through. It is continuing to try to coach and teach how to pull our way through together.”
One of Dooley’s primary focuses throughout training camp has been on teaching the players how to be comfortable when they are uncomfortable. Those lessons are starting to come into play as the days until the first game continue to wind down.
“Learning how to control your mind to refuse to go out there and have a bad practice is very important,” Dooley said. “That’s what we are doing. We are trying to learn how to be comfortable in a real uncomfortable setting.
“There are so many games out there where you get in a real uncomfortable situation and if you don’t train your mind to learn how to overcome it when you do get uncomfortable then you will never be able to play your way out of it. That’s what we are really working on right now.”