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Everything Josh Heupel Said After Win Over Vanderbilt

Below is a transcript of everything Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel said after beating Vanderbilt to finish the regular season with a 7-5 record.

Opening statement... 

“Appreciate our fanbase all season long, it’s been phenomenal in the way they’ve responded to our program and to our players. Tonight was no different. The Vol Walk is a sight to see and our fans did a great job early in the football game. It’s tough for our student body as they go home, but man, the students that did show up did show up were fantastic, appreciate that. I want to thank our seniors, from the time I’ve gotten here and all this uncertainty when I first got introduced up on this podium, what they faced for two months leading up to that moment and how they’ve responded, stepped through the fire shows who they are as people and leaders inside our program. They have helped lay a rock-solid foundation in this program as we go forward. Appreciate everything that they’ve done. Excited about the win today. I thought defensively we started super fast, obviously the pick six by Theo (Jackson), great play by him. Velus (Jones), huge return. Offensively, didn’t get things going there early in the football game. Didn’t convert in that short field, but kids responded. I thought the defense played stifling, suffocating defense the entire first half. Gave up one play at the end of the first half. I liked the way they came out and responded in the second half for the most and offensively, found a way to get in rhythm and get some things going there as the game unfolded. But, appreciate who they are, what they’re about, how they compete, how they’ve grown, and competitive spirit every time we strap on and run out on the football field.”

On how important it was to have success in year one… 

“Important for our program that we grew throughout the course of the season. You guys have seen our kids respond and grow throughout the course of the season. They’re great competitors, which is the first thing that you have to have inside of your program. Very consistent in that behavior. The one thing that I and we have never done is as a team put a ceiling on this group and they’ve responded to that too. They believe in who they are and are confident in themselves not only as individuals, but collectively as a group too. It was important for us to show those things throughout the season for sure. I think, as much as anything, all the recruiting we did from the time I got here in January up until September were really, in some way, words. You’re trying to compare and contrast things that you have done at other places and why it’s going to work here. I think the great thing about where we are at in recruiting now, recruits understand all of those things are true and will happen here.” 

On Senior Day ceremonies… 

“In life, man, there's no doubt in my mind these guys are going to be successful. Football prepares you in a really unique way for what's going to transpire and happen in life. These guys will be highly successful individuals, the way that they're able to step through things. For Alontae (Taylor) and all of them really, I'm grateful and indebted to them and a lot of ways for their buy-in, being great leaders, and being able to communicate. It's a group of seniors that is really rare in their ability to communicate. I saw that from the first moment that I got here on campus. What was working, what wasn't, what was broken, and what was important to them. That laid a lot of the foundation of groundwork as far as how we kind of move forward.” 

On Tennessee’s offensive line… 

“Nothing speaks to the coach (Alex) Golesh and coach (Glen) Elarbee and our staff and all the different positions to be able to put kids in a position of success. I think it speaks to those guys that have stepped in too and competed extremely hard. In the moment, they've taken advantage of it for a lot of them. I think it speaks to who they are when nobody's watching too and the ability to just grow. I mean, Jeremiah Crawford, just where he started, coming in late. I’m just talking about during the course of summer. Just his growth through training camp to his ability to go out there and play the way he did tonight.” 

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On convincing the team of their potential… 

“I think what we as a staff had to show these guys is what does it look like to be able to play at a winning level. Talent is one thing, but that doesn't dictate where you go in this game or in life. The inches that you got to gain every day, the accountability that you got to have, the respect for the people you're in the locker room with, to the coaching staff, to the ability to work through the process and just continue to fight and grow. All the consistency you have to have in your competitive nature and how you attack everything every day. As we've gone through those stages, they've started to understand that we do have a chance to really be a good football team. I think they gain confidence in that. They gain trust in us as a staff but gain confidence in who they were as well. When things haven't gone perfect, or we've been on the wrong side of it, we've tried to show them why those things transpire and things that we can control to change the outcome of some of those football games.” 

On how Tennessee is going to approach the upcoming weeks…

“Our staff will be on the road recruiting, and that kind of becomes the forefront here for the next week or two. We'll be back next weekend and have a bowl practice or two. For our guys, they'll have a day or two off during the course of the week, but we'll get back in the weight room a little bit too.” 

On Cedric Tillman’s development as the season has gone along… 

“I believe his best football is still ahead of him. He's a guy that from the moment we've gotten here he's just been super consistent in who he is and how he approaches the day, how he works in the weight room. He has to spend as much time as anybody watching extra film on what we've done offensively, and what you have to do. Because of his work habits, he constantly gets better. First five days of spring ball to the second five days, you can see him get better. You see his confidence grows in five of the 35 days, and he took another huge jump in who he was all summer long and how he prepared. During training camp, you can see him take steps, and guys have seen that in the way he's played throughout the course of the season. Man, he's got a chance to be an extremely dominant football player next year. Guy's got chance to do some really special things and help this program win.” 

On discussing with Hendon Hooker about his return to the program next year… 

“For all those guys, you just approach it in the way that you want to present information to your players, and make sure that they understand where they're at, what's being said, what the process looks like, and you help them and their families. You want the best for them, and I want every one of our players to go to the NFL and have a 10-year career and change the course of their life forever. To do that, you have to be physically, emotionally, and mentally ready to make that stride. It's not a leap. It's a developmental league. You want to make sure that your kids are in the right position and in the right frame of mind. He has to jump and 'chute. Nobody's happier for him than myself and our staff.” 

On how things look in terms of bowl preparation…

“We have a few days off this coming week. We'll get some lifts in. We’ll have something this weekend. This coming weekend, a practice or two. I haven’t decided that. The coaches are out on the road, and we hit the ground running here tomorrow.”