“Carry the fight to our opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes” is one of General Robert Neyland’s famous gameday maxims, one that 14 Army ROTC cadets at Tennessee are taking literally.At 7 a.m. on Friday, the cadets embarked on a 148-mile journey across East Tennessee, taking turns to run the game day ball to the Battle at Bristol in time for the 8 p.m. coin toss Saturday.
“With the Battle at Bristol, we thought it would be cool to run the game ball from Knoxville to Bristol as a way to celebrate the historic game and be a part of it in some small way,” said Lt. Col. Jared Crain, head of UT’s Army ROTC Rocky Top Battalion.
Running a game ball to an opponent’s field is a tradition several rival schools carry out each football season. The Army ROTC program at Virginia Tech will also run their game day ball to Bristol at the same time.The drive from Knoxville to Bristol takes less than two hours, but the cadets’ journey will take 13 hours by foot, the equivalent of 317,000 total steps. Each cadet will run two- to four-mile stretches.
The Knoxville Police Department will provide an escort to keep the cadets safe on the road.
The group will start at General Neyland’s statue at Neyland Stadium’s Gate 17 on Phillip Fulmer Way and wind their way through Knoxville, up to Morristown, White Pine and Newport before stopping in Greeneville for the night.
“The Greeneville YMCA is putting us up for the night and hosting a barbecue for the cadets and providing cots,” Crain said. “Then the cadets will get up early Saturday morning and run the rest of the way in through Fall Branch, Kingsport, and Blountville until they reach Bristol.”There are 150 cadets in UT’s Army ROTC program and the number continues to grow each year. Fourteen were chosen to run the game ball to Bristol.
“We wanted to recognize high performers who have been leaders for the program and the kinds of cadets we want others to emulate,” Crain said. “We based criteria off GPA and physical fitness scores, and let our cadet leadership team incorporate some intangibles for who to select.”
The cadets will sport bright orange Vol Army T-shirts during their journey. One of them is sophomore Kylie Logue, a Clarksville, Tennessee, native majoring in natural resources and environmental economics. Logue is one of five female cadets out of the 14 ready to run the historic trek.
“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I get to help bring attention to UT’s ROTC program, which is a huge part of who I am. Plus I love sports, and getting to participate in the largest football game in history is awesome.”
Once the cadets reach the stadium, one lucky runner will carry the game ball across the checkerboard end zone to midfield, where it will be given to UT’s honorary coach.
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“The folks at Bristol have been phenomenal to work with, and the cadets are excited to get to watch the game,” Crain said. “We’re so honored to be a part of this. This is a once-in-a-lifetime game and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our cadets.”
UT’s Army ROTC program is one of the oldest in the country, tracing its roots to the founding of the university in 1794. The program was officially founded in 1916 when ROTC was created at the national level.
Spectators are encouraged to attend Friday’s 7:00 a.m. send-off and cheer on the cadets at each of their stops. Follow the cadets’ journey on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #VolsRuntoBristol.