PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — It was a sight that would make any football fan smile. On a hot and humid Sunday afternoon at Wear Farm City Park, kids ages 6-14 were running routes, practicing plays, and having fun—learning under former players who used to grace Neyland Stadium every Saturday.
Even though the annual Legends of Tennessee Football Camp looked slightly different due to COVID-19 concerns, the camp provided a sense of normalcy during this unprecedented time.
Former All-SEC Tennessee running back Jabari Davis, who was given the reins from University of Tennessee Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer, coordinated the camp. Getting former players from different eras, who played under different coaches, to put their football knowledge together to pour into young football players.
Davis almost turned the camp over to COVID-19, as concerns started to build, but the former fullback was able to recover the event — following safety guidelines in accordance with local health officials.
“Its good to see everybody back together, enjoying the game of football, being around kids, being around people. Staying safe with it,” said Davis with a smile on his face and his orange and white Gator draped around his neck.
The Legends of Tennessee CEO and director was joined by VFLs Chris Treece, Legends of Tennessee VP, Derrick Tinsley, Herman Lathers, Justin Harrell, Troy Fleming and more.
With COVID-19 canceling their other camps they hold across the state, this year’s weekend long camp was extra special.
“These types of camps gets people together and kids get to learn really great knowledge from people that have been successful on that platform they’re trying to pursue, so that’s the reason we do it,” says Davis, “When you make it a certain level in life you should always give back to the community’s that help you get to that level that you are.”
Davis played for Tennessee from 2001-2004 under former head coach and current Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer. Besides honing in on the fundamentals of football, Davis passes along life skills he learned at Tennessee under Fulmer, like how to carry yourself on and off of the field.
“Always be on time. Always work hard in everything that you do. That’s what sports can build into kids especially in the game of football. It teaches a lot of discipline and how to be tough. If you fall down on the field are you going to sit there? Or are you going to get up and make something happen? The same thing in life you’re going to go through trials and tribulations, good times and bad times are you going to sit down and complain? Or are you going to get up and figure it out and try to be better. It goes hand in hand.”Jabari Davis, former Tennessee running back
His former teammate Derrick Tinsley who helps train kids alongside Davis relays life lessons he learned at UT that he carries with him like the mentality that you always have to compete whether it’s in the classroom, on the field or in life.
“Never give up and stay on course you’ll eventually get to where you’re going,” says Tinsley, adding “Put your head down it’s a humble grind but it’s definitely worth it.”
Tinsley played multiple positions for Tennessee at wide receiver, running back and on special teams. The versatile player who helped lead the Vols to SEC East titles in 2003 and 2004, focuses on the fundamentals of the game when teaching young players — to set them up for a successful future in football.
“Fundamentals is first and as you move up in the ranks of level of football, terminology concepts and things that you want become easier but if you can go ahead and give them the fundamentals now it will pave the way for them later on,” Tinsley said.
The VFL traded in his orange and white jersey for a whistle and state championship ring — finding success as an assistant coach at Marietta High School in Georgia, coaching running backs. Tinsley uses to success he’s found on the field both as a coach and player, to craft eager and young players at the Legends Camp.
“I volunteer because I am a Volunteer,” says Tinsley with pride, “I know that it starts with somebody giving back to the youth what somebody gave me. What Jabari is putting on here is good for the community and also serves us a purpose as former football players to come back and get together, brotherhood, and also share our experiences with the younger kids so hopefully when they keep moving forward in life they’ll be able to look back at this camp and that they definitely learned something.”
In true Volunteer spirit, former Tennessee linebacker Herman Lathers is giving back through the game by offering up skills on the gridiron and in life that he learned while playing at Tennessee during what he dubs the “crazy years” playing from ’08-’12 under three different head coaches.
Lathers says he instills in young players the importance of internalizing the fundamentals of football by being a student of the game.
“If you’re a student of the game, the game kind of slows down for you and you actually start to enjoy it more,” Lathers said.
Aside from getting advice and learning from these “Tennessee Legends,” the kids got to train with the VFLs—honing in on skills and perfecting technique with great players in their positions.
Lathers says he tells kids who play linebacker to take your time in the box, be decisive and to never second guess yourself.
“A lot of the decisions that you make have to be quick and decisive there’s no hesitation. If you play that position you got to love to hit, you got to love the physicality of the game and you got to be smart. You got to know what’s going to happen to you before it happens so that’s what I try to instill into these guys,” Lathers said.
VFLs Herman Lathers, Jabari Davis, and Derrick Tinsley pour knowledge of the game they picked up playing for Tennessee into young players. Lathers give advice to linebackers on how to be successful at that position. Davis hones in skills runningbacks and fullbacks need to find success on the field and Tinsley talks about the importance of retaining the fundamentals of the game.
The camp not only helps craft young players, but it also reconnects former players from all different eras — a unique aspect of the annual event.
Even though a lot of them don’t know each other “from Adam or Eve,” as Lathers fondly says, playing under the VFL brand brings them together as a family.
“We all have different coaches and experiences but once we start talking to each other it’s the same stuff,” says Davis, reflecting on how the camp brings them together as a big orange family — “It’s the same locker room memories, it’s the same battles to compete for SEC championships, recruiting stuff and so many big games have been played with all of us; so we get to sit back laugh and talk and socialize and just be UT football players again for the weekend.”
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