The name Volunteer has become synonymous with UT. It can be found on T-shirts, billboards, and bumper stickers. And the phrase “Go Vols” can be heard just as often off campus as in the stands of Neyland Stadium on Saturdays in the fall.
Though UT’s athletics teams were given the moniker 120 years ago, according to the Tennessee Historical Society, the state of Tennessee first earned the nickname the Volunteer State during the War of 1812. The nickname was reinforced when prominent Tennesseans Sam Houston and Davy Crockett took part in the Texas Revolution and then solidified in 1848, during the Mexican–American War, when Tennessee’s governor called for 2,600 volunteers and the state sent more than 30,000 including students and alumni of the university.
A resurgence of the Volunteer nickname came in 1898 during the Spanish–American War, right as UT’s football program was gaining prominence. The team played its first game in 1891, and by the turn of the century the program had gained significance across the state.
In 1902, UT was wrapping up its football season with a game against Georgia Tech. In the final five minutes of the game, T. B. Green scored a touchdown to give Tennessee a 10–6 victory. The next morning, the Atlanta Constitution referred to Tennessee’s team as the Volunteers, sparking the nickname. Before they were dubbed the Volunteers, UT was referred to mainly as the Tennesseans or the Varsity.
It wasn’t until 1905 that Knoxville’s local newspapers, the Journal and Tribune and the Sentinel, caught on and began using the nickname regularly. UT fully adopted the nickname in the early 20th century and never looked back.
The nickname Volunteer is unique among other colleges and universities. Rather than adopting the name of an animal like a tiger or bulldog, UT chose to adopt a nickname that represents the spirit of the people of the state. There is a sense of pride when it comes to being a Vol. Whether you are an athlete, student, or alum, being a Volunteer is special.
While UT is represented by the Volunteer, its physical mascots are Smokey, the bluetick coonhound that can be seen on the sidelines on game days, and Davy Crockett, who embodies the Volunteer spirit. Crockett was a native of East Tennessee, a soldier who served in the Tennessee General Assembly and then US House of Representatives before losing his life in the Battle of the Alamo. The mascot Crockett can be seen running onto the field holding the Tennessee flag as the Vols run through the T.