KNOXVILLE — Curt Maggitt had stood up and spoken in front of his Tennessee football teammates like it was no big deal before.
None of those times, though, was Maggitt wearing the gray alternate uniform the Volunteers will break out for one game this season. That was the difference in Thursday morning's team meeting.
"I'm usually not nervous talking to my team," he said Thursday afternoon following the official unveiling of the five jersey combinations the Vols will use this season. "If we called a player-only team meeting, or if I'm presenting something to my team, I'm never nervous. But I was a little bit nervous."
Unsure of what he'd do when he entered the large team meeting room in the new look, Maggitt simply walked through the door and let his teammates react. The Vols hooted and hollered in approval. Many stood with excitement, and a couple of players shook hands with or hugged first-year coach Butch Jones.
"I was excited," senior right tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "I've been waiting four years for this. We're going to go out there and have fun wearing something new."
Added Maggitt: "Everybody went crazy. I feel like a few of the guys had an idea what was going to happen, but Coach Jones did a good job, even though it kind of leaked. For everybody to see it in person and know that's something that belongs to us, I think it was real good."
The new look features the "Smokey" gray that's actually listed as one of the school's three primary colors and orange lettering outlined in white. The white road jerseys now feature "Tennessee" above the numbers on the front of the jersey, and a faint checkerboard pattern in the orange numbers has replaced the black outlines. A patch of the state of Tennessee is above the players' names on the back of all five combinations.
Jones pointed out that Tennessee's 1914 team wore gray.
"Make no mistake about it: We don't want to be a program that has wholesale changes," he said. "It's a tradition-rich program. There's only one Tennessee, so we're not going to be a program that's all over the place with our uniforms."
Though discussions are ongoing as to which game will feature the gray alternative, it most likely will be one of the four SEC home games. Jones, who introduced some alternate jerseys while at Cincinnati, wanted to add a different flavor to the Vols' look while also respecting the program's past.
"I was very surprised," safety Brian Randolph said, "because I hear about the tradition at Tennessee and nobody ever wants us to change and stuff like that, but I feel like sometimes change is good, especially when you're trying to change the culture of our team, as Coach Jones is trying to do."
There's also a recruiting aspect in play. A handful of prospects, including many of Tennessee's commitments, posted on Twitter how much they like the new look. Programs such as Oregon and Maryland have made alternate uniforms popular, and many recruits take interest in how they look while they're playing.
"I always try to keep up on recruiting on what kind of hits with guys and what they talk about, and you certainly see it when there's programs that put out something new and something flashy, it gets talked about," tight ends coach Mark Elder said. "I don't care if it's the ugliest darn thing in the world -- it gets talked about. One way or the other, I do think that that certainly can help you in recruiting.
"When people are talking about your program, when something seems appealing, when something's flashy to a 17- or 18-year-old kid, that's going to help you in recruiting."
James had committed to Alabama when the Vols last broke from their traditional orange-and-white look under former coach Lane Kiffin in 2009, when Tennessee wore black jerseys and orange pants in a Halloween night victory against South Carolina in Knoxville.
"Coach Kiffin had called me the day before and said, 'I've got a surprise for you tomorrow. Check out the game,'" James recalled. "That surprised me. That was the last time we actually beat them.
"All the [recruits] were excited when I talked to them, and even the guys that were still on the team, they were like, 'Man, that game was crazy. There was nothing like it. He pulled out the black, and everybody just went crazy.'"
Whether fans like the changes or not, many players and recruits are excited about alternate uniforms.
"He's a true players' coach, and he wants the best for his players," quarterback Nathan Peterman said. "I think that's something that maybe not a lot of people understand out there, is that, especially in recruiting, us immature high school 17-year-olds, we like the bling, I guess is how you could say it. These young guys are going to like it."
Maggitt was one of five players selected to model the new uniforms, and after other players were assigned their combination, Jones asked the linebacker what color he thought he'd wear.
"Green," he replied, joking about the green noncontact jersey he's worn throughout preseason practice as he continues to recover from a knee injury.
"Then he told me I'd be wearing the gray ones," Maggitt said. "That was exciting. It was more exciting when I first saw it."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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