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Sanders gets warm reception from Neyland Stadium crowd

Joe Avento and Jeff Birchfield • Sep 8, 2018 at 10:24 PM

KNOXVILLE — Randy Sanders said he wasn't sure how he would feel coming back to Neyland Stadium. The home fans certainly made him feel welcome.

"It was special to come back," said Sanders, East Tennessee State's first-year head coach. "It was good to see everybody and it was really good to be back at Neyland Stadium."

Sanders, who coached at Tennessee for 17 years after graduating from the university, was caught off guard by a video featured on the Jumbotron. It showed highlights of him playing and running the Vols' offense when they won the national championship after the 1998 season.

After the video, the crowd of 96,464 gave him a nice ovation.

"I thought it was a really nice gesture," Sanders said. "The one time I happened to look up at the Jumbotron and saw what they had about 'welcome back.' I can't lie to you. That distracted me for a second. I thought that was a really nice thing to do. I didn't expect that at all."

Sanders said he saw the R.A. from the dorm he lived in for three years. He also had a ball boy, whose father was a manager when Sanders was at Tennessee, stop by and say hello.

After being on the short end of a 59-3 loss, Sanders was ready to get back to where he now calls home.

"Now I'm looking forward to getting back to Greene Stadium," he said.


Sanders was confused about a call in the fourth quarter when Dylan Weigel appeared to cause a Tennessee fumble and Jason Maduafokwa recovered. After Quay Holmes gained five yards for ETSU on the next play, the officials announced the previous play was being reviewed.

Even though a play had already been run, the call was overturned and Tennessee kept the ball.

"It's my 30th year of coaching and I haven't seen anything like that," Sanders said. "Obviously, we haven't had replay for all 30. I don't think we even had color television when I started out.

"The answer I got was they were trying to buzz down and the buzzer or whatever on the referee wasn't working."


With Saturday's 59-3 win over ETSU, Tennessee has now won 23 of its last 24 home openers. The only loss was a 31-24 double-overtime loss came against Oklahoma in 2015.

Although it was the first meeting with ETSU, the Vols improved to 48-4-2 all-time against Southern Conference opponents.


The late Reggie White was honored before Saturday's game against East Tennessee State in a ceremony which included family and friends. White, the legendary defensive lineman, was a unanimous All-American selection in his senior season of 1983. He is a member of both the College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

His widow, Sara Copeland White, who attended ETSU, and his former teammates Phil Stuart and Bruce Wilkerson took part in the pre-game ceremony. Stuart was an all-state lineman at Science Hill before attending Tennessee.


Sanders' joking comment in Monday's pre-game press conference made it to the airwaves Saturday morning on the popular ESPN "College Gameday" show.

Sanders joked if the Bucs upset the Vols, "I'd have that goalpost thrown over my shoulder coming back up the interstate. I could tell you I wouldn't be riding no bus, I'd be walking probably naked with that thing over my shoulder."

The clip was replayed on the popular show with host Kirk Herbstreit laughing that it was a sight no one wanted to see. Former Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard joked the comment made him want to be a Tennessee fan for the day.


ETSU will earn a guarantee of $500,000 for playing the Volunteers. The Bucs have more games against FBS schools already scheduled, including Appalachian State and Vanderbilt in 2019 and Georgia in 2020 — when they are scheduled to get $550,000. ETSU is also scheduled to play North Carolina in 2022.

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