Josiah-Jordan James was on the field at Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
The Tennessee basketball guard had a cigar in his hand, given to him by a Vols fan on the field. He took countless photos with fans. He loved every minute of the aftermath of the Tennessee football that beat Alabama 52-49.
“That game was a game of a lifetime,” James said. “I am very happy to be a part of Vol Nation and a part of the University of Tennessee. … It was a night I will never forget.”
James and many of his Tennessee teammates attended Saturday as they often do at football games. UT also welcomed plenty of recruits, including committed 2023 prospects Freddie Dilione and JP Estrella.
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They were like everyone else at Neyland Stadium: They absorbed the moment the Vols snapped a 15-game losing streak against Alabama in Josh Heupel’s second season.
“The work Josh has done with this program is right up there with the best of the best,” Vols coach Rick Barnes said. “What he got into and what he did to get hope back last year, I thought before the Alabama game, the biggest thing was for the first time I thought people really felt like we had a chance.
“It’s time to start believing in the Heup.”
Said shooting guard Santiago Vescovi: “Even before the last 5 minutes of the game, I already thought it was the game of the year because of the intensity of the game, the story behind it and everything.”
THE MOMENT:A run to the field, a click of the shutter and a Tennessee football photo for history | topmeyer
Tennessee is ranked No. 4 in football following the win and its first 6-0 start since 1998, when UT won the national title. Tennessee basketball is ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press preseason poll after winning the SEC Tournament title last season for the first time since 1979. The Lady Vols are ranked No. 5, their highest preseason ranking since 2015-16.
It’s the latest string of high-level expectations and achievements for UT athletics, which enjoys widespread success. Tennessee baseball won a program-record 57 games last season and claimed the SEC regular season title and the SEC Tournament title. Lady Vols soccer also won the SEC Tournament and women’s swimming and diving won the SEC championship.
James called Tennessee an “everything school” when it comes to athletics in June. He felt that on Saturday he proved it again.
“I already knew it was going to happen,” James said. “People out there were skeptical, but I knew it. I know the hard work that not only us, but also the athletic programs throughout the university. Hard work always shows. Everything is coming to fruition.
“It’s great to see the university get the recognition it deserves, that we need. It’s a great time to volunteer for Tennessee.”
Tennessee basketball hopes to continue its success under Barnes. The Vols have made four consecutive NCAA tournaments. UT was picked to finish third in the SEC in Wednesday’s preseason press poll.
Barnes attributed the overall success to top-to-bottom leadership in Tennessee from UT President Randy Boyd, UT Chancellor Donde Plowman and athletic director Danny White.
“I’m not only happy for Josh Heupel and his staff, but for the entire sports program,” Barnes said. “We know how important football is to our entire university, not only for the athletic aspect, but also for the alumni base. … I didn’t realize until I got here eight years ago, we have the best fan base in America. It was a special day.”
Mike Wilson covers athletics for the University of Tennessee. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @byMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you to access all of it.