Senior tight end Luke Stocker is an undisputed leader on this Tennessee team, and nowhere is that made more apparent than in the dealings with the media, where he is always one of Derek Dooley's top choices to represent the team.
Stocker will be relied on to set an example this season, both on the field and off, and he is eager to shake the off-season rust and begin working toward a successful senior campaign.
"I think all of our guys are really excited about it," Stocker said about the start of fall camp. "It's been a long time since our last game and everybody's just really excited to get on the grass with a new coaching staff and a new system and play some football."
Stocker isn't unaware of the low expectations given to Tennessee by members of the media, but said he and his teammates place little stock in preseason hype, or lack thereof.
"The projections have come out for us to be picked fifth in the East, and a lot of people were wanting to know what we thought about that," he said. "But we have our own expectations as a team and as far as projections and preseason – all that type stuff – we don't really pay too much attention to it. We look forward to meeting our own expectations."
Much has been made of Dooley's split-squad practice sessions to begin fall camp, with the veterans taking part in regular mid-day practice and the newcomers having late-night sessions all to their own. Stocker sees the separate sessions as being beneficial to the on-the-field education of the new arrivals.
"I think it will benefit a lot of guys, getting that extra time," he said. "When you're out there with the old guys and the veterans – the guys that expect to get a lot of snaps this season – they kind of get more of the attention, I guess you could say. With the young guys on the grass by themselves with the coaches, the coaches can really hone in on what they need to hone in on with the young guys and get them ready to go."
As far as personal goals are concerned for fall camp, Stocker said it's about building toward the season each time you step on the field.
"The main thing is progression from each practice," he said. "You want to get better, obviously, but to focus in on the details of things and progress through your details and assignments and hopefully by the end of camp you're close to one hundred percent each time you go out there."
It's no secret that Dooley is Tennessee's third coach in three years. The mood amongst the players, however, is strictly one of putting their trust in the staff and growing as a team in this vital period.
"I would say ‘no,' it's not something we're focused on right now," said Stocker about the coaching transition. "We're focused on those things that we can control on the field and Coach Dooley's our coach and we're going to be behind him one hundred percent and do everything he tells us to do."