Maybe it’s just me but things feel a little different around Tennessee athletics right now. Sure, Vol football has shown more promise than many expected but I think it goes deeper than that.

Perhaps it was Lady Vols Soccer claiming another SEC East Title or maybe the shine of Tony Vitello’s World Series trip hasn’t quite run out yet but the shadow of the nightmare of last January faded away quicker than I ever thought it would.

We obviously can’t forget that this is still Tennessee and things can take an insane turn at any time but I like where UT athletics is right now as much as I possibly could given what transpired with Jeremy Pruitt and Phillip Fulmer. And that’s certainly all well and good but the key is to continue to make things even better.

If preseason analysis and hype can be believed, Vol basketball will be another bright spot for the Big Orange to build upon. Rick Barnes’ squad is ranked No. 18 in the AP Top 25 and is flush with exciting incoming freshmen and senior leadership. But it wasn’t Barnes’ team that caught my attention this week. Instead, it was something he said during his Media Day press conference on Wednesday.

Barnes was asked how excited he was to have fans back in Thompson Boling Arena in the coming season and he took a little side tangent to heap praise on what’s happening right now at Tennessee…

“To see what’s going on here at the University is exciting. Great leadership, from Randy Boyd to Donde Plowman and what Danny White has done with his staff. There is no question that what Josh Heupel has done is phenomenal. You look at the way we’ve improved as a team. I love the fact that being around Josh, he’s a confident guy that has focus on what he’s doing, has put a great staff around him. … I’m just so proud of our university. Our athletic department going through tough times and I can tell you there is no better leadership at any University in the country than what’s going on here right now.”

I might just be a sucker but this response warms my orange heart. UT athletics has been a minefield of miscues for 15 or so years now and maybe the tide is finally turning. But, what really gets me is Barnes referring to Vol football as “we.”

Phillip Fulmer said multiple times during his time as athletics director that he wanted everyone at Tennessee to “pull in the same direction.” That never really happened under his leadership but there’s no better time to start than now. Barnes saying “we” when referring to the football team hopefully shows that everyone really is pulling in the same direction.

We all know that the University of Tennessee is a sleeping giant when it comes to athletics. Few universities and fan bases have the passion and power that the Big Orange does when things are clicking on all cylinders. Let’s just hope this momentum keeps up and maybe we’ll be able to reestablish our giant status sooner rather than later.

Watch Barnes’ full press conference here: 

Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK