Players were buzzing around, working in the weight room, going to watch film and doing everything else that’s normally associated with playing SEC football – even in the offseason with seven months to go before the season opener in Nashville against Bowling Green.
But, at least for a few hours later in the evening, it was time to trade talk about hand placement for discussion of proper name tag placement. The orange and white was replaced with black, navy and gray blazers, as 22 companies, many of which are led by former Vols, descended upon campus to network with upperclassmen on the football team who are beginning to think about their next step in life.
“We’re calling it the VFL Career Development Night,” said former Vol lineman and current director of Tennessee’s Vol For Life Program Antone Davis. “The idea of having an event like this, it started out as an opportunity to get former players who are now business owners and in the position to hire people, to now come back and mentor our players – have the players an opportunity to sit down and talk to people, network, build relationships and hopefully get internships or even jobs out of it.”
In a sense it’s a reminder, a reality check of sorts for players who spend countless hours devoted to football and school during this phase of their life. A majority, even at an SEC school like Tennessee, won’t go on to the NFL. And even those who do will someday be faced with the reality of life after football.
It’s also extremely practical. Davis noted that linebacker Kenny Bynum landed an internship with Tennova through this concept last year, and many other connections have been made between current players and leaders in the business community. Regardless of what their football futures hold, he hopes they remember that there will come a day when playing the game isn’t part of their life anymore.
“It’s almost a trap,” Davis said. “Everybody thinks they’re going to the league (NFL). And I’m here to tell you – they’re not. It’s so important for these guys to realize – even if you do go to the league – and what I try to tell them is, even if you do go, you may want to come back and try to partner with some of these businesses, so still go ahead and make these relationships.
“And Heaven forbid something happen and you get hurt, now you’re at least positioned to where you’ve built that relationship and it’s a long-term relationship.”
“All (about) networking,” said rising senior tackle Kyler Kerbyson, who has aspirations to become an athletic director after his playing career. “They were able to let us print out our own business cards, so we can hand those out, take some as well and I’m really excited for this whole process so I can get a job after all my football is done.”
That’s what this event, now in an expanded form in its second year, is all about. Tennessee moved it to its in-house athletic restaurant, Smokey’s, and opened the event to business leaders that not only played at UT, but also representatives of some of the largest companies in East Tennessee such as Tennova, Scripps, Alcoa, ORNL and more.
This is the type of event that coaches promise when selling the Tennessee brand to families in recruiting. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of helping players transition to life after football, but Davis said that Butch Jones and his staff truly make it a priority.
“I wasn’t this fortunate,” said Davis, who played at UT from 1987-90 before moving on to the NFL. “Our players have a lot of resources and this is an example of one of them. The big thing is that it’s extremely important to Coach Jones to do it. He could very well say that we don’t have the time or the money, but he’s very dedicated to it and he’s committed to it. He’ll be here tonight…
“Sometimes you can say, ‘Ok, this is one more meeting,’ but if we don’t do these kind of things, then we’ll fail. These are the type of things that, though it may be time consuming – it’s two hours tonight – it’s not that much, but it’s so important. I think the lessons they’ll learn from the prep and going through this event will last them a lifetime.”