A Bray Day in Hoover
By John Brice | VolQuest Senior Writer
HOOVER, Ala. — It’s 5 a.m., hardly his favorite time of day, and Tyler Bray is slipping into a brand-new all-black suit, joking he’s doing his best Johnny Cash impersonation as he prepares for his own version of “Folsom Prison Blues.”
Bray neither relishes early mornings nor meeting the press. But he will make the most of this Thursday, flying to SEC Media Days as one of three Tennessee players and loosening up increasingly along his media tour that features 14 designated stops plus a handful of concluding appearances along “Radio Row.”
“I was a little nervous at first, kind of didn’t know what to expect,” Bray says of his initial reaction to the honor/chore. “Had a little media training the other day and they kind of grilled me on what would happen. I’m kind of used to it.”
His nerves, perhaps calmed by a quick sausage biscuit for breakfast, are nowhere to be found on the flight down, according to teammate Ja’Wuan James.
“They were trying to just crack jokes, break the ice, and he was knocked out on the plane the whole time,” James says. “I couldn’t sleep; the plane was kind of small and I was kind of nervous. But Herm (Herman Lathers) and Tyler slept.”
Bray doesn’t sleepwalk through a four-hour gauntlet of reporters inside the Wynfrey Hotel in the Birmingham Hamlet of Hoover. He meets Tennessee-based reporters first in a secluded area of the hotel, answering questions about his suit, his summer, his receivers, his coach and the magnitude of the coming season for 10-15 minutes.
“I’m going for a Johnny Cash look,” he jokes.
“You actually listen to Cash?” he’s asked.
“I do some,” he says.
Bray is clean-shaven and just a few hours removed from a haircut; the suit is brand-new and being worn for the first time since some needed alterations. Bray, 6-foot-6, weighs 220 — most in his life — and this added upper-body girth mandates new threads.
“My mom was like ‘Can’t you just wear the suit from last year?’ and I told her, I could Mom, but I’d look like Chris Farley in ‘Tommy Boy,’” Bray cracks. “All my shirts are getting too small. I need a lot of new clothes.”
Soon Bray could use his own recording device. Questions he faces initially from mostly local reporters become themes soon thereafter. In both designated rooms for general television interviews, Bray is asked about Derek Dooley’s perceived hot seat, the need to get Tennessee back on track and the pressure Bray himself feels — to play a complete season and clearly emerge as an elite-level quarterback in the SEC.
Bray is polished; he doesn’t stumble for his words and comes across with an earnest delivery.
He says coaches can only do so much; that he doesn’t think Dooley should be on the hot seat but that the players are. “A head coach can only do so much; at the end of the day, it’s up to the players to perform,” Bray says.
Bray begins to hammer home his belief that the Vols need to win for their fans and the state of Tennessee, noting he felt both were let down last year when UT struggled to a 5-7 finish.
But in between the TV rooms, Bray is simply thirsty. He asks me, “What are you drinking?” “Dr. Pepper,” I reply. As Bray reaches for my cup, he says “Mind if I have a drink?” and I inform him to take the rest.
He’s ready for the next round of questions. Soon, however, Bray disappears from the general media sessions. His day is peppered with stops to chat with CBS, ESPN, FSN and Sirius Radio, among others.
Bray tells ESPN’s Cara Capuano that the Vols could win the East or even the overall league championship. He isn’t making any guarantees and isn’t looking to be reckless, but Bray also is looking to drop some memorable quotes as he navigates the waters of 700-plus reporters and doesn’t mind admitting as much.
Bray passes Brent Hubbs and tells him, “I got up too early; not a morning guy.”
Moments later Bray visits with more national reporters and tapes a segment for the SEC Network about football in the South. “It’s big in California,” Bray says, “But nothing like it is here. It’s almost” a religion here.
With a few minutes between interviews, I ask Bray about his bright-orange tie. It is a recent amendment to his wardrobe.
“I just got this tie to wear today this morning,” Bray says. “I had one with little Smokeys on it, but I was like, ‘No. We’re going to need something else.’”
By now Bray notices that a cadre of videographers follow him with cameras anytime he walks through the common areas; he smiles and engages the media.
“You guys having fun?” he asks and then continues on to meet with yet more reporters and TV personalities.
I ask him what his worst question is more than halfway through his day, and he can’t pinpoint one. But he is tiring of the hot seat talk, questions about Justin Hunter’s health (“He’s fine,” Bray reiterates) and, most stinging, the Kentucky loss.
“That’s the one I hate the most,” he reveals.
And that’s the question that keeps Bray speaking of restoring the Vols’ and state’s pride.
The day is winding toward a close for Bray, who absorbs his worst question inside the large print media room. He is queried about an alleged disagreement with coach Dooley on the field at the end of the Vols’ Music City Bowl loss — nearly two years ago to cap the 2010 season.
Bray takes the blame, says he made a bad read and threw it to the wrong spot when Gerald Jones was wide open. He says it is one of his learning experiences. Reporters look askance at one another, unsure the genesis of this question at this point in time.
Continuing one of his other themes of the day, Bray reaffirms he believes he’ll throw this season to the best trio of receivers in the nation in Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Da’Rick Rogers.
Someone reminds Bray that USC has pretty good wideouts too for Matt Barkley. Bray says he knows they’re good, that he’s thrown with some of them back in the day but that he’ll take his Big 3.
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