Quotes: Focus Narrowing as Vols Lock in on Orange Bowl Showdown

Quotes: Focus Narrowing as Vols Lock in on Orange Bowl Showdown

MIAMI – With less than 72 hours until kickoff of the 2022 Capital One Orange Bowl, the No. 6 Tennessee football team completed its third on-site practice of bowl week at Barry University. Prior to practice, quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle and select offensive players met with members of the media Wednesday morning at the Le Meridien Dania Fort Lauderdale to discuss the Friday night showdown with No. 7 Clemson.

Quarterback Joe Milton III received high praise from his coach and teammates during the media session as the Volunteer representatives expressed their confidence in him and the growth they have witnessed him undergo during the course of bowl practices.

“He’s been extremely intentional in his preparation,” Halzle said. “It hasn’t been too big for him. He hasn’t changed who he is, but in the same breath, he understands his new role of having to lead this team. He’s done a really good job of not having the moment be too big for him. He’s completely dialed in to what we’re seeing, what we’re expecting and how we’re going to attack it. I’m actually excited to watch him go take the field on Friday night.”
 
“It’s been great. Joe is a great leader, a great quarterback and a brother as well,” redshirt senior tight end Princeton Fant said. “The confidence level is high, we all trust Joe. We trust the gameplan with Joe. He is going to go out there an compete and give it everything he has.”

While the game has lots of different twists compared to a regular-season contest, it is viewed among members of the team as an opportunity to finish what they started, a message head coach Josh Heupel has preached throughout bowl practices: finish what you started.

“We built this, so we want to finish what we started,” junior running back Jabari Small said.

“I’m just focused on winning this bowl game,” Fant added.

That focus and intensity continues to build with every passing moment as the Vols continue preparations for the ACC Champion Tigers.

Comments from Halzle, Milton III, Fant, Small, Ramel Keyton and Javontez Spraggins can be found below along with videos from their media availabilities.

Orange Bowl Offensive Press Conference | Dec. 28, 2022 

Tennessee Quarterbacks Coach Joey Halzle  

On Alex Golesh being named head coach at USF…
“I was really, really happy for AG when he got that opportunity. I know he’s been wanting to be a head coach, and he got a great opportunity, so it was all good on our side. When someone gets a chance to live out a dream, it’s a great thing to see him be able to do it.” 
  
On the dynamic between UT’s coaches with Golesh’s absence…
“It’s been great. This staff has been together for a long time. A lot of us were at UCF together. A lot of us were at Missouri together as well. We’ve been together a long time, and I think because of that, we’ve had a great move over to this new situation, where we’re not fully staffed right now but everybody is kind of just taking different roles that they haven’t had to do and just making it as fluid as possible.” 
  
On preparing to face Clemson’s defense…
“Clemson’s defense, what you would see is they are an attacking style of defense. They like to pressure, like to get up in your face and try to change the looks on the quarterbacks, the wideouts and o-line. What you see is a defense that is clearly well-coached. They scheme well, they game plan well, and they play really hard, so they present a really unique challenge.” 
  
On what Joe Milton III has done to impress him since being tabbed the starting quarterback…
“He’s been extremely intentional in his preparation. It hasn’t been too big for him. He hasn’t changed who he is, but in the same breath, he understands his new role of having to lead this team. He’s done a really good job of not having the moment be too big for him. He’s completely dialed in to what we’re seeing, what we’re expecting and how we’re going to attack it. I’m actually excited to watch him go take the field on Friday night.” 
  
On who will call plays in the Orange Bowl…
“It’s always going to be communal up there. I’m (Coach Heupel’s) eyes up top, he’s down on the field. As a whole staff, we’ll get to the right calls together.” 
  
On what stands out on Clemson’s defensive line…
“You’ve seen them just attack other offenses. That’s one of the things that I actually respect about what they do, is they don’t sit back and let the offense and dictate what they want to do. They come after them and try to force the offense’s hand to play how they want them to play. It’s actually been a unique challenge with all the different stuff they’re going to show you on tape, and like I said, I’m excited to go see what it looks like on Friday night.” 
  
On the opportunity for Tennessee’s young wide receivers to gain experience in the bowl…
“Absolutely. Ramel (Keyton) has played a bunch of ball for us this year. We have absolute trust in him. Squirrel (White), he’s dynamic. He’s lightning in a jar right there. That guy can go the distance at any time. Once again, we have a unique responsibility as coaches to put a lot of guys that haven’t played as much ball in good positions to go be successful. I think we’ll do that.” 
 
On the development of freshman WR Chas Nimrod… 
“Chas is explosive. He’s explosive, he’s long, he tracks the ball really well. Really excited about his future here. He’s a guy that has a chance to be a bigtime playmaker for us.” 
 
On redshirt sophomore QB Navy Shuler… 
“Navy is a great guy. The whole room loves him. He’s a really hard worker. He’s really meticulous in how he goes about his game planning and his week, and he’s just the ultimate team guy. He loves that university, it means something to him, and it matters to him. He’s really the ultimate – whatever needs to be done from him, he does it. He’s there early, he’s there late, and he’s there preparing just like he’s the starting quarterback. He’s been a great addition to the room.” 
 
On freshman QB Tayven Jackson returning from injury… 
“He looks like his old self again. It’s been good watching him out there running around, throwing the ball again. With it being the collarbone like it was, he was out for a little bit, and there hasn’t really been a setback on his way back to it. He looks good out there on the field.” 
 
On incoming freshman QB Nico Iamaleava… 
“He’s obviously a really high-end talent, but he’s also a great kid. He’s been running scout team stuff, and all our scout coaches are talking about what a great guy he is, and how he doesn’t feel like he’s too big to do that type of stuff. Really talented young man who’s a really, really good young man too, for lack of a better word. He’s been a great addition here.” 
 
On conversations with Iamaleava about outside noise or pressure… 
“A little bit, but nothing really. Like I’m saying, the way he’s wired and the way he was raised, he doesn’t come in thinking he’s bigger or better than anybody or doesn’t have to do anything. He’s been doing all the freshman lifts, he’s been doing the scout work, and he just is happy to be out there, happy to start learning the offense and get his chance to go compete.” 

 On the camaraderie between Milton and Iamaleava in the bowl practices… 
“It’s been great watching Joe try to help him get started and get him to all the right spots, to help with his eyes and all that type of stuff. Joe has been awesome with him.” 
 
On Clemson’s secondary… 
“The back end, people don’t talk about them as much just because of how talented the front end is there, but they have a really good group of DBs back there. Just matching their front, they are aggressive. When you’re letting the ball go, they’re going to try to drive on it and make plays on the football. That’s the type of player they have and the way they’re coached, to be extremely attacking in their style, and you can see that on tape.” 
 
On the motivation level he’s seen during bowl prep…
“I think if you watch our guys in practice, it’s been a really high energy, good intensity practice. I think a lot of that is from what you asked earlier, we have some guys that are trying to show that they should be the guy moving forward here. I think you got a bunch of guys that are ready to go perform on a big stage at a high level and make a statement in their minds.” 
  
On how the responsibilities were split up with Coach Golesh leaving for USF…
“For sure. And we lost a lot of support staff, as well, that went out there with them and got their first coaching opportunities and we’re really happy for those guys too. But, as far as stuff they didn’t even think about, like who’s printing the scripts and all that type of stuff, so it’s just everyone kind of grabbing on and doing what they can to help. Like I said, it’s been a really fluid transition.” 
  
On who will fill Coach Golesh’s position moving forward…
“Yeah, we’re going to go try to win a ballgame on Friday night and everyone’s pitching in to get that one done and then we’ll figure it out on the backend.” 
  
On the team outings and what he’s enjoyed most about the trip so far…
“So, I wasn’t at the beach outing or the yacht, that was for the guys, but I got to go to Joe’s Stone Crab last night which was awesome. It was my first time getting to go there, so that was a big-time meal. It was a really cool environment and I enjoyed that one a lot.” 
  
On his role in terms of calling plays for the bowl game…
“I’ll be up top, and coach (Josh) Heupel will be down low. It’s always been extremely communal anyway, and obviously one guy is going to end up making the call and coach Heupel is the head coach, so it’s always going to go through him. But, as far as being the eyes up top and helping him get where he needs to go and him judging the feel and the play down low, I think it’ll be a really nice transition for us.” 
  
On Joe Milton’s development since taking over as starter…
“Yeah, he’s had a really good December as far as going from late November with Vandy and then into this one where he’s really gotten to take hold of it and make it his own. He’s dialed in. He’s ready to go play. He understands that it’s a big game, but he’s not put all the extra pressure on himself to where he’s tightening up. He just seems loose, he seems like himself and he’s ready to go play well.” 
  
On the unique bond between Joe Milton and Hendon Hooker
“It was a unique bond when Hendon was the starter that, one, Joe stayed, and two, that they became such good friends and roommates actually. I’ll tell you a story, when I got here, we had a walk through the first night in the hotel and when I got to the lobby Joe was sitting there and Hendon had the call sheet in his hand and Hendon was going through the plays and Joe was making the calls. Hendon was like, ‘where are your eyes going here?’ So, Hendon still, (despite) coming back from his rehab, he’s working through the call sheet with Joe before a Monday night walk through. That’s the type of guys we got there. It’s pretty special to see. I didn’t even know they were doing it, I just happened to walk up on them.” 
  
On Hendon being here with the team and staying involved with bowl prep…
“No he’s here. Hendon is here. The main thing he’s doing right now is obviously rehabbing. That’s the biggest thing for him but he’s been great to have around the guys. I think it’s just a good presence to have around with the type of guy that he is. He could have just said I’m done with it, but he’s still here and he’s wanting to make sure that we perform well as a team, which is, like I said, unique. But he’s a unique young man.” 
  
On the added responsibilities he’s taken on since Coach Golesh’s departure…
“I’ve had to take on quite a bit more with actual preparation of like the call sheet and everything that he would do with coach Heupel and now I’ve taken into the role to make sure everybody is on the same page and we’re rolling, and we have everything ordered correctly. So, basically just being what he was for coach, filling into that role.” 
  
On Joe Milton catching rabbits in his hometown of Pahokee…
“Yeah. He’s told the story before. Joe is freaky athletic. If you’ve every seen a 250-pound man do a backflip, it’s pretty insane to watch. Joe likes to joke about that from where he grew up doing that. He always said he got too big too quick though, so he had to stop.” 
 
On the experience at the Orange Bowl… 
“It’s been awesome, the whole crew has been great. The guys feel taken care of, their hospitality room is awesome, they’ve had a bunch of cool stuff. Like they got to go on a yacht, they had a beach day then they’ve got an awesome dinner tonight. As a staff, it’s been well taken care of. Our families have had an awesome experience which always makes it more fun when you know they are taken care of when we are out at work. Had an awesome dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab last night, I had never been there before, I heard it was a historic place so I was excited, and it lived up to it.  Really excited about that one, now as we are getting closer and closer to gametime, just honing it all in. You know, sometimes on bowl trips it’s all fun, then the game just shows up on you so Coach Heupel has been like ‘hey guys, we are here for a reason.” So, it’s been an awesome experience. We were very excited to come here.” 
  
On using the events as motivation to continue striving for excellence… 
“I think it’s good if you can use that as motivation for how you want to live. Like, “okay, this is cool and it is absolutely attainable” and if it can help people transform their habits and their mindset to flip it to: this is actually an attainable thing for me, I think that’s an awesome experience for them.” 
  
On remembering the experience going forward… 
“One hundred percent, and I think to your thing about motivating guys moving forward, when you have a conversation – and it’s awesome in December when you are a part of it and you’ve got a bowl game coming up and there in something there – but in February, when there is nothing ahead of you and there is nothing to get ready for, let’s remember these moments and use them as a motivating force in February, March, April when you can’t say, “hey, I’ve got a game in four days, I’ve got a press conference.” No one wants to talk to you in March. No one wants to talk to you in February, so how are we going to stay motivated? If you can use that as something that feeds into someone’s self-drive and habit-changing and mindset, I think that’s a huge positive.” 
  
On how he brings up motivation to individuals… 
“I think a lot of times you have to judge it on an individual basis, but I do think there are times when you can feel it when it starts to turn into a go-with-the-flow situation. Like how do we create urgency when there aren’t 100,000 people and cameras with eyes on you in the next four days, because nobody is watching you in February, so that conversation just naturally comes up because human nature takes over and people fall into complacency. So anything you can use to bring them out of that complacency I think is really good for us.” 
  
On if the gameplan changes with different pieces playing… 
“Oh yeah, Joe’s talent level and his dial into the game has been the same all year long. So, we feel comfortable rolling him out there, we don’t have to pull anything back for Joe. Ramel has played in a lot of huge games. He started against Alabama, he started against Florida and played really well in those games. So, there is nothing on our staff where we have to do this, or have to change this, or not do this. We have to go out there and play, and play the way we play and see what happens.” 
  
On Ramel Keyton stepping into a leadership role… 
“I think that just kind of occurs naturally. When you are the next guy in, a lot of times you hang back a little bit, but Ramel is more of a lead by example guy. He practices really hard, he plays really hard and the guys see that and see that he never felt bad for himself when he was behind Cedric Tillman, he was always ready to go and when he got his opportunity, he excelled. He doesn’t have to do a bunch of hollering and saying, that’s just not how he is wired –which is fine, not everybody needs to be that for you. He is a great example that you can point to as a staff that if you stay ready, in this game, your opportunity comes and go grab it when it does.” 
  
On the most fun thing the team has done… 
“It seems like the beach trip. Everyone was talking about how the yacht, it was just so cold that night they were out there. But they seemed to really enjoy the beach trip yesterday. Then, everybody seems really excited for the dinner tonight at Fogo de Chao.” 

R-Senior QB Joe Milton III 

On starting a bowl game in his home state…
“It means a lot. Coming from Pahokee, Florida, that’s an hour away. It’s a blessing. Not everybody where I’m from gets to have this opportunity, and I’m just cherishing every moment. Some of the guys where I’m from, they either take the wrong route or play ball and not get far with it, so I feel like this will be a great opportunity for me to showcase my talent and play for the Vols, but also just put on a show for my hometown.” 
 
On developing more of a leadership role since being tabbed the starter… 
“I haven’t changed one bit. I’ve been the same person. It’s called consistency. I feel like from my prep at the beginning of the season to now has been the same. I haven’t changed one thing. Only thing that has changed is just the reps, the amount of reps I get. I get more reps than I did when I wasn’t starting, that’s pretty much the only thing that changed. Nothing else changed. My leadership role has been the same, it’s just viewed differently now from others. But for me and myself, I’m still the same person.” 
 
On any adjustments due to the departure of Alex Golesh… 
“Everything has still been the same. This is what Coach Heupel and Coach Halzle have been doing from day one. Now that Coach Golesh is gone, we wish him the best for him. He was a great coach, but we just have to keep it rolling, and that’s what we Vols are going to do.” 

Junior RB Jabari Small

On finishing the season off right…
“One hundred percent, I think that is enough motivation right there. You look at Hendon Hooker, how much he meant to this program, he wasn’t able to finish with us, obviously. Jalin Hyatt, you can only be happy for him. Then Ced, Cedric Tillman, he dealt with injuries and tried to get back. So, playing for the people that were here with us, but were not able to finish, that’s a big deal for us. And what we built, like Coach Heupel always says, we built this so we want to finish what we started.”

On Joe Milton III
“Very, very confident. He oozes confidence and it is very contagious, but with every rep you can just see him building – getting more comfortable in the offense, getting his swagger back. So, this game I think he will get a fair shake to display his talent. Vanderbilt, last game, there was a lot of rain so it was a different type of ballgame, but this game I think we can let him loose and let him show his talent.”

On having downtime between games…
“One hundred percent, just being able to rest, get off your feet, and even see family, it’s very refreshing. Just being in Miami, taking in the whole atmosphere, the environment. It puts you in a different type of mindset as well, so I think these last four weeks were really good for me.”

R-Senior TE Princeton Fant

On the confidence in Joe Milton III
“It’s been great. Joe is a great leader, a great quarterback and a brother as well. The confidence level is high, we all trust Joe. We trust the gameplan with Joe. He is going to go out there an compete and give it everything he has.”

On having his daughter around an in attendance at the game…
“It means a lot. It’s my last one here, so to have her there watching me in the stands is a blessing. She kind of understands (the experience). She is only three, but when she sees me she says, “there is daddy.” When I score a touchdown she loves it, it’s fun to see her light up. With the beautiful smile she has, it’s an amazing feeling.”

On his future after the bowl…
“Everybody’s dream is to go to the NFL. That’s something I’m working towards, but right now I’m just focused on winning this bowl game. I’ll handle the rest after this game and just see where the future goes.”

Senior WR Ramel Keyton 

On how it’s been getting ready for the Orange Bowl down in Miami…
“It’s been nice just getting used to the weather and the humidity and getting your body used to a different climate. In Knoxville, it was cold, so we got to treat our bodies different down here.” 
  
On Clemson’s defense and the challenges they pose…
“I see challenges like getting open on time because their d-line in good, so our challenge is getting open on time and not disrupting the timing in our routes and stuff like that.” 
  
On what Clemson’s defense does well as a unit…
“I feel like as a unit they play well together. They’re all on the same page a lot. I feel like their secondary is pretty good, but the d-line helps them out, so we got to get open really fast to help us out.”

Junior OL Javontez Spraggins 

On what has been his favorite part of being in Miami…
“Being with the team, believe it or not. A lot of guys say coming to Miami, you go out and have fun, but just being with the team and being in this atmosphere is a memory that’s going to last forever.”

On the offense’s preparation with some key players missing…
“Yeah, it is a lot of moving parts, but as far as us as an offense, we try to minimize our mistakes and do everything the right way so that we don’t have to this, that and the third late in the game or anything like that. Like we said, we’re preparing and we’re going to come out and try to execute the way that we’re preparing.”

On what changes from an offensive line perspective with Joe Milton at quarterback… 
“It actually doesn’t change. Like I said, I got two guys that I know both work hard. Both are mentally able to compete and it’s not any different. It’s like, hey, I got to go out there and practice today for this guy because I know that if I do it right, we’ll make the game short and easy.”

-UT Athletics

Vols TE Princeton Fant / Credit: UT Athletics

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