Every beginning of camp is widely anticipated in college football.
But Friday night, the inaugural practice for Team 118 at Tennessee, had a special feel for several Vols.
It was a moment that the likes of Mack Crowder, Marcus Jackson, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Danny O’Brien and several other veterans have been waiting on for, in some instances, several years.
“I think of it has a tremendous opportunity,” Butch Jones said of some of his veterans finally getting their shot. “It is a tremendous opportunity for Mack Crowder. Mack Crowder has worked exceptionally hard. Now is your opportunity, go grab it, go take hold of it. Marcus Jackson, we redshirted him because we knew this was going to happen.
“Now is your opportunity, you have waited for this, you didn’t play last year. Go take advantage of it.”
“It’s really exciting,” said Kerbyson, who worked as the first-team right guard Friday night. “I spent the last few years behind some really good guys in Zach Fulton and Ja’Wuan James and I just learned as much as I could from them.
“I was really excited about this day and the season knowing that I would be the starter and be able to go out there with my boys – Mack Crowder and Marcus Jackson – the guys who came in with me. It’s a really fun time for me right now.”
Kerbyson at least saw the field in some situations last year. Jackson can’t say the same after the coaches opted for him to take a redshirt season with the thinking that it would help promote future depth due to the expected mass attrition from last season.
It was a decision Jackson found tough to handle at first. But he saw the logic and viewed it as a growth opportunity.
“I just took it as a time where I could improve on what I needed to improve on the most,” he said. “I figured that was the time I would improve the most in my career since I had time to just focus on me.”
“He paid his dues,” Jones added. “He worked exceptionally hard, he redshirted, which, when you’re a competitor, that’s hard to do, but now you work so hard to put yourself in position, go take advantage of it and we’ve spoken about that.”
With the starting defensive line moving on, part-time players are also getting a chance to step up on that side of the ball. O’Brien sat through a redshirt in 2012, saw limited action in 2013 and was working with the starters at the one-technique defensive tackle on Friday night.
“This summer and this past winter I really got focused,” O’Brien said. “I got married to the weight room over the summer. I lived in there getting extra work every day and a lot of guys on our defensive line and on our team have done that. I’m trying to just seize the opportunity.”
They’re still a month away from truly showing what they can do on the field, but, for those who have waited their turn, Friday was a day that had literally been years in the making.