AMID A sea of orange and white on a clear, crisp fall Saturday afternoon created for college football, the crowd snaps to its feet as the ball crosses the end zone. The band and the fans launch into Rocky Top as the Tri-Star and Power T flags wave across the field. Davy Crockett carries one of the flags as Smokey and the spirit team cheer. No game would be the same without these iconic traditions.
In frontier clothing beneath the flag is Fayetteville’s own Eli Dotson. And it’s more than appearances at football games; it’s a full training schedule for the University of Tennessee sporting events and appearances.
What began as an application to walk the famous Smokey became an inside look at the heart of Vols fans. It became a memorable part of his college career.
Having advanced to the interview final four stages for the Smokey handler position, the mascot coach and head coach of the spirit program noticed that Dotson would make a great Davy Crockett. While he didn’t get the handler’s position, he did get a call.
“It was a lot different. I wondered if this was what I really wanted to do and thought it didn’t seem to fit me, and I knew I’d be a lot more busy. I just wanted to walk with the dog. And looking at it then, I was very uncertain, and I didn’t think I would enjoy it that much. But looking at it now, I think it was one of the best opportunities I’ve ever taken,” said Dotson.
Dotson, who played sports in high school, appreciates that athletic background as he runs under the weight of the flags.
“It’s a lot of running,” he said. “But the running isn’t the hard part; it’s definitely the flag. When the flag is out and the wind blows, it’s about 40-45 pounds. It gets really heavy and tiring. I do Vol walk, straight into band walk, straight into pregame, and straight into running the team out. After every touchdown, I run the field and wave the flag. So it can get pretty tiring pretty quick,” said Dotson.
Fridays in the fall mean appearances at Food City spirit events, which draw loads of devoted fans. Food, inflatables, and Vols mascots rally the crowds ahead of Saturday’s games. These events have broadened Dotson’s appreciation for Tennessee fans.
He said, “Many at Food City and even at the orange and white game where it costs $5 are a whole different fan base than what you would see at the games. But at the same time, they’re just as much fun. When you can go out and really see how big the fan base is and how amazing it is from every walk of life, it just makes it that much cooler.”
Driving between Knoxville and Fayetteville, it’s not lost on Dotson that he travels the Davy Crockett Parkway. The mascot role has naturally caused him to think more about Crockett’s historical impact.
“I didn’t expect this many Davy fans. When I thought of Davy before, I thought he was just the guy that ran the flag out. But I see it’s so much more than that. Being from Fayetteville and [the home of] Camp Blount has definitely made me feel closer to the history and heritage of Davy Crockett,” Dotson said. “You don’t necessarily get to spread the history of Davy Crockett, but you get to hear the history. A lot of history buffs talk to me about it, and I love that, especially at football games. They like that there’s an actual Tennessee-based mascot character at the games.”
Dotson said there’s no better place to raise your kids than Lincoln County. When he thinks about home, the community’s support in times of tragedy immediately comes to mind.
“I was really good friends with Tate Tuten. Having a community around you when a tragedy like that hits makes it special. And like when the tornadoes came through, the community immediately came together,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always loved about Lincoln County. No matter who it is or your differences, when [the community needs] to come together, we’re always going to come together.”
Dotson sees his work as a priceless opportunity even though the mascot role was different from the one he was seeking. He’s learning to take advantage of opportunities as they come without fear of taking a chance.
“There was a little voice in the back of my head when I was thinking about doing this that my friends would make fun of me; it would be weird. But I ended up just going for it. You never know what you’ll love or what these opportunities may create,” he said.
It’s good to see a familiar face under that running flag. Ignoring that little discouraging voice gave us that connection and opened the door to priceless experiences for Dotson.
That’s a win we can all get behind. GN