Senior day includes special moments for every program every year. It is an emotional day for the seniors who play their final games in their home stadium in front of the home fans. But for everyone else, it’s just another Saturday with another football game.
On the field, the Vols overcame a sloppy first half to roll Missouri, 66-24, capping off Tennessee’s first perfect season at Neyland Stadium since 2007.
But as 21 Tennessee players ran through the T for the final time and played their final games inside Neyland Stadium it’s hard to imagine Senior Day meaning more to a group of players and fanbase.
“Those guys, with what they have been through, are the guys that chose to stay through uncertainty,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “They bought in and jumped into the deep end with me. They have competed. They have grown, and we have been connected in a really unique way as this thing has grown pretty quickly. I cannot say thank you to them enough—not just what they do on the field—but who they are and how they go about their business every day.”
The blowout win was a culmination for the Tennessee players that were a part of one of the program’s worst seasons ever and decided to keep going when a recruiting scandal, mass exodus and a coaching change were thrown in their way.
It was a rewarding day for Jeremy Banks who went from running back to getting kicked off the Tennessee football team to eventually becoming a solid SEC linebacker.
It was a rewarding day for LaTrell Bumphus who overcame injury-after-injury to play one final season for his home state school.
“He’s been through all the adversity here at Tennessee during his tenure, his career, plus all the injuries that he’s had,” Heupel said. “I don’t know that there is anybody that cares about the Power T and the players in the locker room more than he does. He is one of the most selfless people that I have ever been around. All he does is come to work.”
It was a rewarding day for Princeton Fant who played half a dozen positions at Tennessee and added two more touchdowns to his career-best seven score season.
It was rewarding for Trevon Flowers, Jerome Carvin and Solon Page III who all soaked in the final moments of their time in Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee’s Trevon Flowers, Jerome Carvin, Maurese Smith and Smokey didn’t want to leave the field following their final game inside of Neyland Stadium. pic.twitter.com/PcvxN0LxEA
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) November 12, 2022
Hendon Hooker didn’t spend his entire college career in Knoxville but his final game in Neyland was as meaningful as any other Vol.
Hooker had as big a role as anyone in resurrecting the struggling Volunteer program and turned in a gem against Missouri, totaling 405 yards and four touchdowns.
“Hendon is a really powerful story,” Heupel said. “He transferred in, didn’t get it right at the first stop, the young man didn’t get named the starter and continued to pour into his teammates. He becomes the guy and continues to grow. He competes every day, shows up and works and becomes a great leader. He will be one of the greats however it ends out. He will be one of the greats here, and it’s a pretty cool story. The perseverance that it takes to fight and go through that as a player. It’s a hard thing to do.”
And while Hooker didn’t spend four years at Tennessee, his shortcomings at Virginia Tech made Saturday “emotional” for the signal caller.
Hooker finished his final game in Neyland Stadium conducting the Pride of the Southland Band playing Rocky Top. A moment Peyton Manning and other legendary Vols have experienced.
“The band for sure, the band was cool,” Hooker said of his favorite senior day moment. “That’s always kind of been a dream for me. Just coming here and seeing Peyton stand up there and conduct the game, I always thought that was the coolest thing ever to be able to strike up the band. That’s what we want to do every week; put the ball in the endzone and strike up the band.”
Tennessee has plenty of football left to play and more they want to achieve. But the 2022 season has been the programs most successful in decades. The players who saw Tennessee at its worst — and even the ones that didn’t — soaked in one final game in Neyland Stadium and hung their hats proudly on a job well done.