Vols Florida natives perform in the face of hurricane distraction
KNOXVILLE — As Hurricane Irma makes its way up the Florida coast, many on Tennessee’s roster are keeping a close eye on the damage.
The Vols, like many teams in college football, heavily recruit the state.
Eight of 14 SEC teams have 10 or more players on the roster from the Sunshine State. A total of 13 players on UT’s roster are from the state of Florida.
As the hurricane approached Florida on Saturday, it would have been easy for those Vols to be distracted. It was the exact opposite for many of them.
“I think every single guy that’s from Florida on this team, football’s been kind of like their getaway from the real world,” UT defensive tackle Kendal Vickers said. “Their families and all the players from Florida are going through a lot right now. All we can do is pray for them and hope they’re in good spirits. But I think when they get on the football field, they get away from all that, and it’s kind of like a sanctuary.”
Sophomore receiver Brandon Johnson, of Plantation, Fla., hauled in four passes for 50 yards and his first career touchdown. Freshman Josh Palmer, who attended high school in Florida, had a catch for 18 yards and freshman running back Tim Jordan made his first college appearance, finished with four carries for 22 yards.
No Vol had a better day in the wake of growing concern for his home state than sophomore running back Carlin Fils-aime. The Naples Fla., native had the best game of his young Tennessee career racking up 41 yards and two touchdowns on just three carries in the Vols 42-7 rout of Indiana State.
“Coach pulled me aside, and he spoke to as many people as he could that had families from Florida, and he told me there’s not much that I can do personally,” Fils-aime said. “All I can do is worry about now, what’s going on, and we’ll pray, hope for the best.
“It felt great,” he added. “Whenever I’m on the field, all my worries just go away. It’s all about now, living in the moment, and that’s one of the things that Coach Jones emphasized this week, was living in the moment now and not thinking of stuff that you can’t handle, stuff that’s in the past or that doesn’t even relate to playing football.”
Fils-aime said it was “pretty tough” to prepare for Saturday’s game. He said his family was going to evacuate and head to North Carolina, but waited too long and decided to wait it out.
Jones said the Tennessee athletic department is doing “everything we possibly can” to assist the player’s with families in Florida.
“I tell you what we have been doing is we’ve been in touch with all of our Florida families, and we’re going to help them and do everything that we possibly can to assist them in their individual needs, whether it’s getting them out of Florida (or something else),” Jones said. “Most of them are in town helping provide things for them that they need. We’re all a family and we’ve been in touch with them and we’re working on taking care of their individual needs. They’re obviously in our thoughts and our prayers, along with everyone in the state of Florida.
“That’s a lot on these youngsters. You watch the news, you see what’s going on, you know what’s coming, and it’s all about family. I love them all, and I really appreciate them, and I can only imagine what they’re going through. That’s why we’re going to assist them as a family every possible way that we can.”
Jones said after the game Tennessee has not been in contact with the University of Florida in regards to this week’s game that is scheduled to be played in Gainesville.