By Frank Gale
Summer is here and kickoff for the first game of 2013 season is only about two months away. Once the Fourth of July comes and goes, football will be upon us before we know it. I can almost hear the sweet sounds of "Rocky Top" filling Neyland Stadium.
This might be the year that both football and basketball can turn things around after some recent disappointments. Becoming bowl eligible in football and getting to the NCAA Tournament are two goals that come to mind. Despite the recent history, there are things to get excited about lately. Besides, a change of fortunes is way over due in Knoxville.
The Vols are having amazing success with early recruiting under Butch Jones. The good news continued this past week with the announced transfer from Maryland of Justus Pickett, a running back originally from Charlotte, NC. The addition of Pickett will certainly bolster the running back situation in the future.
Pickett will have two years of eligibility left at UT. He played two years at Maryland, where he had 600 yards of multi-purpose yards and posted 585 yards on 31 kickoff returns. Not a bad pick up for Butch Jones, no matter how he chooses to use him.
Cuonzo Martin has added two needed pieces to his team with transfers this off season. The addition of Antonio Barton, a point guard from Memphis, is huge after Trae Golden’s unexpected exodus from the team. Also, 6’10 “Pops” Ndiaye from the community college ranks will add another big body to the rotation.
Things are looking up around the UT campus for the upcoming year, but the spotlight for the immediate future is firmly on the upcoming football season. A highly touted offensive line is the only known strength but that hasn’t stopped the excitement.
The skill positions on offense will be a work in progress and Coach Jones is still looking for a leader to emerge. When you couple that with a tough schedule and the remaking of a defense that was a disaster last season, you have more than enough reasons for some apprehension.
The good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel appears to be getting brighter. Even though the Vols will have their hands full against the better programs this season, a feeling of optimism has surrounded the program as the rebuilding begins.
It all starts in two short months with Austin Peay and most of the Big Orange Nation will be joining me in counting down the days. As of today, that would be only 64 more days left. Go Vols!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)