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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)
Handing $805 in cash through a ticket window at Neyland Stadium made Blake Gentry feel funny.
"It kind of gives me the shakes a little bit," he said.
The 18-year-old from Cleveland, Tenn., remained pleased with his transaction after his nerves settled.
"A diehard," Lamont Gentry said of his son.
Blake Gentry came here, outside of Gate 22, with the money he pooled from his old job at Publix and his new job as a line worker at the Mars chocolate factory in Cleveland because he wanted to buy Tennessee season tickets for 2014.
He settled on two seats in Section DD, an area UT converted from student seating for the upcoming season. He will have a great view of the 50-yard line.
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"It will be worth it," Blake Gentry said. "I get seven games. It will be worth it."
The incoming Cleveland State freshman, joined by his parents and girlfriend, attended Tennessee's "Meet Your Seats" event at Neyland on Wednesday.
Fans who already purchased season tickets could locate their spots. Those in the market could browse remaining options. New buyers like Blake Gentry were treated to a tour of the UT locker room after their purchases were complete.
"I do work pretty hard for my money," he said. "But Tennessee football, that's what I live for. And that's what I'll put my money toward any day. I see a lot of good things coming out of this team. Maybe not this coming year, but next year for sure."
He's not alone.
As of Wednesday, Tennessee had sold about 59,000 football season tickets, senior associate athletic director for external operations Chris Fuller told the News Sentinel.
Fuller expects to pass the 60,000 mark before the Vols kick off against Utah State at Neyland on Aug. 31.
UT hasn't sold 60,000 season tickets since it sold 63,362 in 2011, according to records Fuller provided to the News Sentinel.
"That still leaves us considerably below our high-water point," Fuller said. "But it really is a testament to how strong people feel about Coach (Butch) Jones and his staff. I think they've gotten really fired up about our recruiting efforts. I think it's also a testament to people on staff here."
Fuller said UT's record-high for season tickets sold surpassed 76,000 in the early 2000s, before seating in Neyland shifted to add more premium options.
The Vols' recent lack of success on the field caused a drastic slide.
Season ticket sales dipped below 70,000 in 2009. They fell below 60,000 in 2012. Last year UT sold 57,499.
While 2014 sales are not yet finalized, UT has already snapped a downward trend that dates back to 2005.
Fuller also has seen progress in the sale of premium seating. He said skyboxes sold out sooner this year than last. His records show UT has already sold 101 more terrace seats and 22 more club seats than it did last year.
"The excitement is there," said Blake Johnson, the Tennessee Fund senior director of development, who helped Blake Gentry buy tickets Wednesday. "People recognize. They look back at last year's big wins or the almost-wins and see the progress. If you ask any of us that have been around here a while, there's a different feeling around here."
Blake Gentry says he feels it. It's why he plans to renew.
"I'll definitely keep holding on to these seats," he said. "That's for sure."