KNOXVILLE — The grind of training camp is kicking in and Butch Jones is looking to see who can handle it. He is hopeful of seeing the mental approach to the game flourish with Team 118.
“This is where as a mentally tough football team, this is where you have to fight through it,” Jones said as the Vols finished their 12th practice of camp. “This is where you have to be disciplined in your habits and in your sleep. This is where you mature, this is where you grow up and this is where you find what’s inside of you to fighting through the pans, the aches associated with training camp.
Jones has preached the message of the ‘Energy Bus,’ a book written by Jon Gordon. Personally Jones takes great pride in having incredible energy and hopes that his passion has infiltrated the entire program.
“Everything is about energy,” said Jones. “It starts with me, it starts with our coaches, it starts with our leaders. You have to get excited, practice is like recess.
“It is controlled chaos. You get to have recess, you go around and what do you love to do? You get to go play ball at recess. You have to keep in perspective , you work so hard for the opportunity to play football, every opportunity to get better is critical. It’s about energy and that mindset.”
Jones has alluded to possibly naming a starting quarterback this week. During his media session on Tuesday, he briefly talked about Justin Worley, praising the senior signal caller.
“Going through your progressions, there is a clock in your head as a quarterback and also understanding situational football and areas on the field,” said Jones. “That was great to see. I see Justin gaining confidence practice-in and practice-out.”
Bates using valuable resources
As freshman linebacker Dillon Bates explained today, much of the uphill battle he currently faces is the mental part of the game. In balancing his freshman year of college, along with the aches and pains of fall camp practices, Bates also finds himself in team meeting rooms, learning from some of the best in SEC football.
“That’s what I talk to Coach Jones and Coach Thigpen about,” said Bates. “They say the hardest thing is the mental part of it. There are different levels to the game, especially at linebacker. You’re getting alignments, getting set, getting your run read if it’s run pass and then once it’s passed, you have to get to your assignment. Once you get the mental part down, you’re able to fly around and make plays. That’s what I’m working toward right now.”
One teammate in particular has transitioned into a mentor role for Bates, as the Tennessee legacy has worked alongside senior linebacker A.J. Johnson in fall camp. While Johnson is one of the most-vocal members of the Vols defense, Bates points out that it’s not just the attitude but the lifestyle Johnson demonstrates that keeps him motivated.
“He’s always energetic. He’s always on the field and involved in something,” said Bates. “Whenever a big play happens, he runs out to the person and congratulates them but also, he keeps them accountable. In the meeting room, he’ll turn around and talk to you about what you messed up on, really talk to you and look after you in what you’re doing.”
Thankfully for Bates, football has not only become his lifestyle but it’s a lifestyle he witnessed his father, Bill Bates, live by throughout a 15-plus year career. Every other night, the younger of the Bates men sits down to call his dad, whom he admits is one of the best resources available to him.
“He always tells me to slow it down,” said Bates. “Just take everything in and every day, work on one thing at a time. Really, he’s my greatest asset as a father and someone to look up to.”
“Yes, we’ve thrown a lot at Dillon,” said Head Coach Butch Jones. “Dillon is going to be a great football player for us and we need him to continue to mature this season but we’re very pleased with him. He just has a great demeanor and it stems from his mother and father. Everything is the way he’s been raised, brought up in a tough environment, a loving environment, and I can’t say enough about him.”
Pedigree aside, Bates continues to be inspired by the efforts of him teammates and coaches, while eagerly awaiting his chance to step in for the Vols defense.
“I can’t really control whether I’m going to play or whether I can’t play,” added Bates. “All I can control is how I go about every day and go about making myself better out on the field. If something happens, somebody goes down and I’m out on the field, then all I can do is play my game and play to the best of my abilities.”