For the first time since 1950, Milligan College will have football players in its dorms this summer — Tennessee Volunteers football players.
The University of Tennessee announced Tuesday that it will spend one week of summer camp (Aug. 9-15) practicing at Milligan. Some 150 UT players, coaches and staff members will reside at Milligan while training on the soccer fields and baseball field.
Tennessee will be transitioning to a new facility in August, but the primary objective is to build more camaraderie and unity for a team that has hired seven assistant coaches since the end of the 2011 season.
Milligan Vice President for Student Development Mark Fox said Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery was instrumental in the decision. A former coach at South Florida, McKeefery most recently worked for the U.S. Army Special Forces, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, in Fort Campbell, Ky., as a human performance coordinator.
“He’s done preseason off-site camps before when he was at — I guess it was South Florida — when they went over to Vero Beach at the old Dodger Town,” Fox said. “I think he was the one that kind of had the idea, and he talked to Coach (Derek) Dooley about it and said, ‘Hey, this would be a good opportunity since we’ve got all of these things going on.’ So they started looking around through him and they found us. ...
“McKeefery’s all about motivation and working hard and unity. He’s been training SEALS — or special forces guys — for the Army. The best I can tell, he’s doing a great job for them, and that’s a concept, I think, he and Coach Dooley worked on.”
Fox likened Tennessee’s out-of-town training to Bear Bryant’s “Junction Boys” mission when he was at Texas A&M or T.C. Williams High School coach Herman Boone’s team-building tactics that “Remember the Titans” made famous.
“We’ll line off soccer fields and use baseball and we’ve got some other areas,” Fox said. “It’s kind of that Junction Boys-Remember the Titans theme, and hopefully, they’ll get the same results as the Junction Boys and Titans got.”
Fox said conversations with Dooley centered around this move being a tool to help win football games.
“The week in Johnson City will provide a unique opportunity to build team unity and limit distractions,” Dooley said in a release from the school. “The opportunity to train away from campus also allows for a more efficient move into our new Football Training Center and will reduce the wear and tear on our practice fields.”
The training isn’t expected to become an annual adventure for the Vols.
“The decision to train off-campus this year is not only driven by the factor of our move into our new Football Training Center but also by the opportunity to maximize the ability of our coaching staff to become further acclimated to one another and the team in a very controlled environment,” UT athletic director Dave Hart said. “I support Derek’s decision and feel strongly that we need to make this investment in our football program as we prepare to open our season in Atlanta. This is a one-time situation, and there are no plans to train off-site at any time in the future.”
Fox said Milligan students report Aug. 18.
“I appreciate our athletic and student development staff for accommodating this opportunity,” Milligan president Bill Greer said in a release. “We will use the revenue from this project to continue additional athletic facility improvements at Milligan, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Tennessee will use Steve Lacy Fieldhouse as a base for operations.
“Going to the soccer fields from there is very similar to walking over to Neyland Stadium from their workout place,” Fox said. “They’ll use the cafeteria. They’ll use the classrooms for their video work.”
Details are still sketchy on potential access to a practice or practices.
“It’s a private campus,” Fox said. “We can decide on who gets on campus and who doesn’t. We can close it off if that’s what they want to do.”
Milligan hasn’t had football since 1950. Asked to name any notable Milligan football alumnus, Fox came up with Kermit Tipton, who was Steve Spurrier’s high school coach at Science Hill.
Fox said the intent of this wasn’t to get the ball rolling on a football program, although he wouldn’t rule it out.
“We’ll have a football team on campus and see what it’s like,” Fox said. “We’ll see. Who knows? We’re gonna do everything we can to position Milligan for the future. ... There’s all kinds of schools that play football. It’s just a matter of resources. Now, are we at a point yet where we’ve got rescources? No. But who knows. ... We’ve got to focus on what we’re doing right now first, before we go running down that road.”
Fox is appreciative of the support he’s seen from Milligan staff and faculty.
“If it wasn’t for the flexibility of our coaches and our coaches’ ability to see the big picture and the potential it brings for Milligan,” Fox said, “I mean, you potentially have ESPN here on campus when they’re doing their tour through the Southeast. I think it may be (a national story). I’d be surprised if it’s not.”
Tennessee opens the season in the Georgia Dome against North Carolina State on Friday, Aug. 31.