The SEC spring meetings have been held annually in Destin, Florida, since 1985. But more than conference coaches and administrators will gather there again Memorial Day week.
SEC fans will be there, too. The Florida Panhandle beaches before have long been a popular destination for them. And they’re easily identified by the colors of their headgear and T-shirts. You might even detect their allegiance by their beach tents.
What’s impressive: They don’t conceal their rooting interest. So what if their teams rarely generated cheers in the past school year. Fans don’t leave their team gear at home amid on- or off-the field embarrassments.
For example, Tennessee fans didn’t stop wearing orange when former football coach Jeremy Pruitt led them to a 3-7 season and into the throes of an NCAA investigation for recruiting violations.
And don’t expect Auburn fans to forgo their orange-and-blue attire when they head to the beach. They remain committed although their football team ended the 2021 season on a five-game losing streak, and school leaders toyed with the idea of firing first-year coach Bryan Harsin.
True SEC fans don’t hide from their programs’ misfortune. They buck up, and dress up in appropriate colors, remembering there’s always next year.
Tennessee fans don’t have to wait until the next school year. They can revel in what a great year this one has been.
Their football team won seven games, made a bowl in coach Josh Heupel’s first season, and received a commitment from five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava this spring. Both basketball teams made the NCAA Tournament and bolstered their future roster with transfers and prominent recruits.
The soccer and volleyball teams also made the NCAA Tournament. So did the men's and women's tennis teams. The men reached the NCAA semifinals before losing.
UT's club rugby team won a national championship in December. A month later, Nic Moore and Taylor Cathey won the National College Cornhole doubles championship for Tennessee.
It’s still too early to declare UT as the “school of champions.” But at least it's no longer the school of Jeremy Pruitt.
It's the school of Tony Vitello, whose work as Tennessee’s baseball coach isn’t done for this school year. The Vols are still in contention for back-to-back trips to the College World Series.
His team made headlines before it played an SEC game this season.
The Vols scored 27 and 29 runs in back-to-back games against Iona at the end of February. They also scored 27 runs against Mississippi State on the last weekend of the SEC regular season Putting that in perspective: Pruitt’s last UT football team failed to score more than 21 points in seven of its 10 games in 2020.
Tennessee’s baseball team turned more heads when pitcher Ben Joyce’s fastball was clocked at 105.5 miles per hour. Joyce hasn’t been UT’s only good story this school year.
Colleague Mike Wilson wrote a compelling story on Tennessee freshman basketball point guard Zakai Zeigler, who demonstrated rare resolve in committing to his sport. As a sophomore in high school, Zeigler routinely traveled from Wyandanch, New York, to Montclair, New Jersey, to play basketball for Immaculate Conception. The roundtrip on the Long Island Rail Road took four hours.
Tennessee's star quarterback is a good story, too. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker lost the preseason competition to another transfer, Joe Milton. But Hooker kept competing until he became the starter after two games. He established himself as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks by completing 68.2% of his passes for 31 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards.
Hooker will return as UT’s quarterback. Zeigler also will be back. And Vitello could be at Tennessee for a long time.
That means Tennessee fans should be just as optimistic about the next school year.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com. Follow him at: twitter.com/johnadamskns.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee Vols fans can proudly display their colors this beach season