Being a student manager for an athletic team has the propensity to be an exhausting and thankless job.
They have to arrive hours before practices each day and stay late to clean. On game day, they arrive hours before game time and are stalking the halls of the arena or stadium long after fans, media, coaches and players have all gone home.
They are forced to miss class due to travel and rarely are allowed the opportunity to visit home. All with little chance to be recognized by anyone other than those they are with on a day-to-day basis.
Even with all of this, Lady Vols' basketball managers Ashley Smith and Jordan Pruitt wouldn't trade their jobs for anything.
"This experience is one — and I think I speak for us both — that we wouldn't trade for anything," Smith said. "It's awesome."
Pruitt, an assistant manager and a junior in communication studies, and Smith, head student manager and a senior in marketing with a collateral in entrepreneurship, both took different paths to the Lady Vols' program but share a common passion for their work.
For Smith, she has been with the program since her freshman year on campus.
"When I was a junior in high school ... I had a friend that was a manager for the Alabama football team," she said. "Junior year, getting ready to go to college, I knew that I wanted to go to UT and he said ‘Hey, on the women’s basketball team they have a staff of managers and you should really look into it.’ Then after my senior year of high school and playing basketball for X amount of years, I was burnt out and tired of playing but knew that I still wanted to be around the game, and what better program to come to than (UT)."
In Pruitt's case, he began his college career involved in student organizations before joining the athletic department in the media relations and eventually finding his way onto the operational side this year.
"I was an orientation leader, a welcome leader and an alternative break trip leader. I did the whole student involvement thing with SGA," he said. "Then, I kind of found my niche in athletics for Debbie Jennings last year on the media side. I was fortunate enough to be asked to come to the operation side and come here and work for a specific team.
"I loved doing the media side, but at the end of the day I was like 'I want to be in there. I want to be with the team, know the team.'"
While in season, the majority of their time is spent in the gym or on the road, but the two try to find time to live a regular college life as well.
"People always think that we hang out with the team constantly when we are outside of work but no. We want to hang out with our own people that aren’t wearing orange and white," Pruitt said.
"When we don’t have practice or a game we are like ‘OK guys, we’ll see you later,'" Smith laughed.
The two try and get out around Knoxville, but most of the time they just enjoy taking a breather from their busy schedule.
"Honestly, I just like to relax and take it easy," Pruitt smiled. "Today my class got canceled this morning and it was like 'finally, I get to sleep past 8 a.m.'"
Trying to juggle working a job with long hours and school work has taught Smith and Pruitt to manage their time as best as they can.
"We receive a schedule before each week that gives us an idea of when we’ll have practices, what days we’ll be off and whatnot," Smith stated. "So we just learn the importance of using a planner, prioritizing and communicating with people involved so at the end of the day you get everything done."
Both are heavily involved in local churches too.
Smith regularly sings at Sevier Heights Baptist Church's Wednesday night, college-oriented service, "The Walk," but even that hobby is time consuming.
"Usually we will rehearse on Monday nights. Basically my schedule is: class, practice, then I am rushing over to Sevier Heights Baptist Church to rehearse for a couple of hours," she said. "Then Wednesday, getting there about an hour before we actually have the show and then doing it."
Smith also occasionally sings the national anthem at Lady Vols' games and other Tennessee athletic events.
"For me it’s been something that has been a big plus because I use to not get up and sing or anything," she said. "The team is what has actually caused me to really step out and be confident."
Pruitt is currently pledging the Christian fraternity, Beta Upsilon Chi.
"It’s been a huge blessing for me to do that," Pruitt noted. "It is taking up a lot of my spare time right now but it’s been awesome."
Upon graduation in May, Smith wouldn't mind working for a business or being an event planner, but hopes to find a career that allows her to stay in athletics.
"Next step will be either be a graduate assistant with a Division-I women’s basketball program or the NCAA. If any internships, obviously sports related, come up to go for those," she said.
For Pruitt, he is trying to enjoy his remaining time in college, but has a goal to be in sports management when he graduates in 2014.
"I will work here for another year and then I plan on getting my masters in sports management ... I'm trying not to think about it too much right now since I still have another year left," he joked.
Most of all, the two managers try to enjoy the opportunities the Lady Vols program provides as much as possible.
"Yes you make some sacrifices along the way, but it pays off to know the team, work with the team, travel and just experience a form of life a lot of college students — and even adults when they get older — won’t get to experience," Smith said.