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WATCH: Tennessee Specialists Talk Vol Football Spring Camp

Tennessee Football
Tennessee long snapper Matthew Salansky (left), punter Jackson Ross (middle), and kicker Charles Campbell (right). Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

Despite coaching his players all the way to the No. 2 special teams ranking in the Southeastern Conference during the 2022 season, Tennessee special teams coach Mike Ekeler and his room of specialists won’t be satisfied until they are on top.

“Last year, we were ranked second in the SEC,” Ekeler said on Thursday. “That is not good enough. We have the talent in that room to do it, and it’s just a matter of, you have to go earn it. That is what our focus has been on, is finding those ways to continue to push the envelope, get better and continue to teach it and drill it better so our guys understand the concepts. We have worked our tails off, but that is our job. We are not going to stop until we are the best.”

After Tennessee’s final spring camp practice on Thursday morning in Knoxville, Ekeler met with the media to give some more detail on what the spring camp slate has looked like for him and his position players.

Following Ekeler was Tennessee redshirt freshman punter Jackson Ross and transfer kicker Charles Campbell. Ross is a second-year Tennessee player by way of the Prokick Australia program in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Campbell, on the other hand, is a native of Jackson, Tennessee, and recently transferred into the Volunteers program after spending the last four years at Indiana University.

Here’s a look at everything Ekeler, Ross, and Campbell said on Thursday morning. The corresponding video for each is below the transcript, which was provided by Tennessee Athletics.

More from RTI: Tennessee Football Storylines For Saturday’s Orange-And-White Game

Outside Linebackers Coach/Special Teams Coordinator Mike Ekeler

On how much growth he has seen from punter Jackson Ross in the past year…

“It was awesome to give him an opportunity to redshirt. He has a chance to be a really unique and special player. We are excited about him. Kolby Morgan is doing a great job too. Those guys are out there competing, which is the way you want it. They are both doing an awesome job and having a lot of fun. From a kicking standpoint, Charles Campbell came in and has been doing a nice job. Max (Gilbert) is doing well. JT (Carver) has been kicking it well. You have three guys doing a heck of a job from a kicking standpoint. You have Bennett (Brady) snapping who is pushing Matthew (Salansky) and Alton (Stephens). In year three, you should have great competition. It’s where you should be, or else I should not be standing here. That is what we have. We have great camaraderie in there. Those guys pull for each other, and we have great competition. Which again, that’s our job.”

On how different James Pearce Jr. and Joshua Josephs are in their second year on campus…

“Josh has had a good camp. James needs to continue to learn how to practice, compete and strain. Roman Harrison has done a heck of a job. He’s had the best camp of all of them. Caleb (Herring) is coming on, and that guy can be a freaky talent. He loves ball. The funny thing about Caleb is after practice, he’ll come in, and I won’t even have a chance to watch the film yet, and he’s watched it all. That guy eats, sleeps and drinks ball. He loves it. That’s what the great ones do. A lot of people want to talk about, “I want this” and, “I want that,” and their actions don’t match their expectations. You have a young guy like that who comes in, and he’s doing that on his own. He just goes in there, locks the door in the meeting room and gets after it. I am really excited about him as well.”

On Roman Harrison taking another step this offseason…

“He should. He’s a senior. That’s what he should be doing. He’s been consistent overall and consistent in meetings. He has stacked 12 great practices together, but that’s his job. He’s taken ownership in that, and he’s doing nothing other than what he is supposed to be doing, which is what we want.”

On if Roman Harrison has stepped into more of a leadership role with the departure of Byron Young

“It’s still a work in progress if I’m being honest and transparent. He would tell you the same thing. In order to lead, you have to set the standard and uphold it. You have to make sure that other guys in the room are upholding it. That’s what we are working towards right now, but it’s still a work in progress.”

On what he has seen from Charles Campbell

“He has a tremendous competitive spirit. He has a great mind as far as he’s able to snap and clear, focus and refocus. He might hit a bad one, but it does not affect his next one. He really has a pro mindset, works hard in the weight room, works hard in the film room and works hard on the practice field. He’s from Tennessee, and he wants to be here. It’ s important to him. When we offered him a spot here, I called his mom and played a joke on her. I said, “It’s great to meet you, and I just wanted to let you know we will do anything we can to help Charles find a ride to Knoxville. You better pack up his stuff and get it ready ASAP.” She was crying, so it’s important to him, and it’s neat to have someone from Tennessee who has this lifelong dream of playing here.”

On Jackson Ross’ recruitment and how he is acclimating to a new country…

“Probably about 20 years ago when I was coaching at another SEC school, I started dealing with some Australian punters. Over the years at different stops, have had different Australian punters. I have a great relationship with the guys over there who run the Prokick Australia program. John (Smith) and I go back 20 years ago. That is the guy who runs it, and he’s awesome. Just watching their guys and understanding what we wanted in a skillset, we got what we wanted. As far as acclimating goes, he’s a tremendous leader. It’s interesting that when you’re in Australia and you’re in high school, you aspire to get drafted out of high school to play Australian rules football. There are two levels; there’s an NFL level and there is a minor league level. He got drafted by the NFL level and played for three years. He’s been a professional, and he’s been in that arena playing in front of 100 thousand people. He goes out in Neyland, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty cool. That is kind of what I’m used to.’ It’s a great fit, and he’s a great guy. He is funnier than heck, just want until you get to know him.”

On the expectations coming into the spring and how the group has held up to those expectations…

“The expectation, and Coach Heupel said it when we got here, is to be the best. That is the standard. Last year, we were ranked second in the SEC. That is not good enough. We have the talent in that room to do it, and it’s just a matter of, you have to go earn it. That is what our focus has been on, is finding those ways to continue to push the envelope, get better and continue to teach it and drill it better so our guys understand the concepts. We have worked our tails off, but that is our job. We are not going to stop until we are the best.”

On how influential it is to get recruits on campus for the Orange and White game…

“It is huge. Everybody in the country talks about Neyland Stadium. Everybody in the country is talking about the games that were played there last year and in the past. All the recruits, they feel that. They have not only been here and have seen it firsthand, but they know. They want to play in that type of environment. As a player, you want to play somewhere where it’s important. As a coach, you want to coach somewhere where it’s important. That is pretty important over there. Peyton Manning said it best in year one when we got here. He looked at Coach Heupel and goes, ‘If the Colts lose, I’m alright. If the Broncos lose, I’m good. If the Vols lose on Saturday, it hurts my soul.’ There are 103 thousand people every Saturday who will say the same thing, and there are probably a million more watching it at home. It is important here, and those guys feel that.”

RS-Senior PK Charles Campbell

On being a Tennessee native and how much thought went into playing for Tennessee…

“I grew up liking Tennessee, I’m from Jackson, Tennessee, my whole family has gone to college here, my little brother is coming here, my little sister is coming here, so for me it means so much. Representing my home state and representing my whole family too, and how they’ve been living in this home state.”

On if he was able to watch Chase McGrath’s game-winning kick against Alabama last season…

“I did watch that. I am friends with the Alabama kicker, so whenever I get done with my games I watch his games. I did get to see that game and see Chase hit that field goal, that was a huge moment for him. I’m so proud of him, what better stage to go out and kick a game winner.”
On pressure situations during spring practice…

“I’ve been under some pressure situations at practice. Coach will bring all the guys around for a last second field goal or something with me kicking. It’s kind of fun, I like it. I like all the guys yelling at me, it’s a way to prove myself in a sense to them, so I really enjoy situations like that.”

RS-Freshman P Jackson Ross

On adjusting to living in the United States and playing American football over the last year…

“It has been awesome. I guess coming to a different country, adjusting to the time zone and being jet lagged for a bit was a little annoying. But once I started practicing, learning from Paxton (Brooks) and getting to know all the boys, it made the transition pretty seamless after a while to be honest. Coming into this season, it’s put me in good stead to take what I learned from last year and put that into scenarios that I am being put into training at the moment.”

On how playing Australian rules football professionally helped him prepare for games here…

“I was pro for three years I guess, and I was put in scenarios which are going to be similar here with some fair crowds and stuff like that. I guess it’s a different game now. I mean last year, I was watching games and thinking ‘what’s that flag?’ The first time they threw a flag, I didn’t actually know what it was, stuff like that is going to be difficult. I’ve gathered knowledge on the sport now. But being around professional coaches made my transition here seamless. I feel like I have a great bond with the coaches in terms of more like friends rather than looking up to them which is good as well.”

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