By Steve Williams
It’ll be a homecoming of sorts for Randy Sanders and many of his players when East Tennessee State University plays Tennessee this coming Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
It will also be the first time ever the Buccaneers and Volunteers have played a football game against each other.
I for one am glad to see ETSU on the Vols’ schedule. If you’re going to play a Division I FCS team, play one that benefits both institutions. In other words, keep the money in state.
The Bucs will earn a game guarantee of $500,000 for playing the Vols at Neyland Stadium.
We know who is going to win, but this matchup still sparks interest. Sanders, the first-year ETSU head coach, is a former UT quarterback from Morristown and a former offensive coordinator for the Vols.
Randy called the shots when Tennessee beat Florida State in the BCS national championship game, taking over for David Cutcliffe, who left after the 1998 SEC title game to get started as head coach at Ole Miss.
ETSU’s roster includes around 15 players with ties to the Knoxville area and four of them will be starting, including senior wide receiver Kobe Kelley from Grace Christian Academy, junior fullback Haddon Hill from Hardin Valley Academy, senior center Matt Pyke from Anderson County High and senior placekicker JJ Jerman from Seymour High.
What an eye-opening day it will be for these guys when they run out on Shields-Watkins Field.
Other local guys on the ETSU squad include QB Trey Mitchell (Central), K/P Logan Bowers (West), WR Kashif Warren (Austin-East), TE Nate Adkins (Bearden), DL Jason Maduafokwa (The King’s Academy), DL Austin Rowan (Catholic), OL Mason McNutt (South-Doyle), OL Michael Scates (Fulton), OL Garrett Curtis (HVA) and LS Dustin Nickle (Webb School).
While Tennessee opened the season against West Virginia Saturday in Charlotte, East Tennessee State played host to Mars Hill in Johnson City Saturday night.
ETSU restarted its football program in 2014 and Phillip Fulmer, now in his first year as UT’s athletic director, helped in that process.
The Bucs began playing games as an independent in 2015 under head coach Carl Torbush and joined the Southern Conference in 2016.
Torbush, himself a Knoxville native, retired and Sanders took the reins after last season.
Kickoff time Saturday will be at 4 o’clock. Most likely, there will be extra tickets available for this game, so this could be a great opportunity for youngsters to get their first chance to see a Tennessee game in Neyland Stadium.
That’s how I got my start as a young Vol fan back in the early 1960s. It didn’t matter to me that the Vols had an easy opponent. It was just a thrill to be at a UT game. I still remember the bleacher seats in the open North end zone and the cannon and old scoreboard on the hillside below Ayres Hall.