Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel answered questions on the SEC Coaches Teleconference on Wednesday morning before the Vols face UConn on homecoming.
Heupel discussed how his team has responded from losses well, left tackle John Campbell Jr. and much more. Here’s everything Heupel said.
“As a football team, excited to have an opportunity to get back home and play in front of our crowd. It’s been a while since we’ve been inside of Neyland Stadium. It’s also been a unique week where it’s homecoming for us so we have a lot of alumni who are obviously coming back but a lot of VFLs, former players will be back in town for this one. So it’s great having them around our program. A lot of the guys are planning on coming to practice on Friday for us. Really excited about the opportunity we have to go play in front of our home crowd and get that going.”
On Charles Campbell’s impact this season
“For Charles, the opportunity to come back to his home state and play for the program that he followed and loved as a young guy has meant a lot to him and to his family and a lot of people who helped him in the beginning stages of his career. From the moment he got here, he integrated himself to the team in a really positive way. He’s extremely focused. He works extremely hard. On the field, just his consistency all spring long, all training camp. He hits the ball extremely consistent and has been very accurate from the beginning. At the end of the day, you never know until they’re in game day. Obviously he had a history that was really positive at his former stop (Indiana). But he’s been everything that we hoped for and what we thought we were getting in him. He’s a great ball striker. He’s a true competitor too. Got great mental makeup for a kicker. Competes hard and cares about the people around him. Been really good on the field so we’re going to need him as we continue down the home stretch of the season. Obviously a lot we need to get better at to make sure we get sevens (touchdowns) and not threes (field goals) all the time. He’s been a huge part of our season and he was the difference in the football game last week.”
On what their communication is like in practice
“Absolutely. At the very beginning, for sure. I do that with really our entire football team. Meet those guys as they’re coming up the stairs to meetings. He’s always wired and ready to go every single day. On gamedays, we have a great relationship and involving him in communication is extremely important. We do a lot of situational kicks during our practices, during training camp, during spring ball. We try to put them in different situations to expose them to what’s going to be real life when we get to the season. I try to be extremely positive with them, joke around with them and try to knock them off their game a little bit on occasion before the pressure kicks too. We have a great relationship on-and-off the field. He represents everything good about college football.”
On their ability to respond to a tough loss with a road win and adjusting to the personnel of this team
“I think, first of all, every season is different. Your personnel is never the exact same. If you play one game on a given day and you play it 10 times it’s going to unfold differently every single time too because there’s so many variables in this football game. As we’ve gone through this season, good teams continue to get better throughout the course of it. I’ve talked about it— I really do like this team. Our kids prepare really hard, practice hard and they’ve played extremely hard. We haven’t always played our best football on any given Saturday but they do compete extremely hard and care about each other. As far as the bounce back question, the consistency that you have— not necessarily just the work each day but they see you and feel you more than they listen to you. I think as a coach, our assistant coaches, everybody in the program— how we push forward after a win or a loss is very singularly. In sports, you’re only as good as your next one. Fans, media, family, everybody around you wants to talk about the last one but as a competitor when you come back in on Monday you’re resetting and you have to refocus, compete and prepare to play your best football the following Saturday. So there’s a lot of consistency in our message, win or lose. There’s a lot of consistency in the energy and feel from our staff of being open too. I think that allows our players to continue to reset and refocus no matter what the result. You have to be process driven over the course of a season but really a given month too. I think that’s important and this group has been able to do that so far.”
On how well John Campbell Jr. can eat Waffle House
“I haven’t made the late night trip to Waffle House with him yet, but during the recruiting process, that was definitely something he cared about. But big John is a great teammate. Is a transfer, the recruiting process happened pretty quickly. Sometimes you have a history with them. Sometimes you don’t. John is a great teammate inside of this building. From the moment he stepped foot in this building. He competes extremely hard. He brings energy to every room he’s in and he’s grown into a guy that really pushes the people around him in a positive way. There’s multiple instances of him gathering his teammates and having a talk with them. He’s a dynamic player obviously. Athletic, can pass pro with the best of them, is physical in the run game, extremely bright. He’s a huge part of what we’ve been able to do up until this point up front and the success of this football game.”
On UConn, how well he knows Jim Mora
“They’ve played a lot of close football games. This is a football team that you watch the tape, they play, they compete extremely hard and for us, having the ability to go out and play smart football, be extremely physical on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Special teams, important we win that phase of the game. Those are the keys this week in my opinion.
“Jim, I’ve got to know a little bit while he was doing TV. Covered some of our football games. A guy that’s won a lot of football games at a lot of different levels. Is a really good football coach. You can just see that in the growth of the program. I don’t think their record indicates how good of a football team they are. Have just come up short in some of those games.”