KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For 75 years Smokey, a bluetick coonhound, has charged the field at Neyland Stadium, guarded the endzone and stared down the competition. It’s a lot to live up to for 9-month-old Smokey XI, but he’s preparing for the challenge.
The Hudson family has been raising generations of Smokey since the bluetick coonhound won out as the mascot for the University of Tennessee in 1953.
“He is so much like his daddy,” said Cindy Hudson. “We brought both puppies home with us.”
As Smokey X gets older, university leaders said it was time to find a new mascot. Picking the next Smokey was a difficult decision, but in the end, they chose a 9-month-old puppy. Meet Smokey XI and his brother!
“Ultimately, the ears won out. They are our babies,” said Hudson.
The pups were born on Aug. 8 at Davis Branch Blueticks in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Their mom and dad — Sweet T Tennessee and Smokey X — are proud parents.
“The pups are his sons. He adores them and loves to watch them,” said Hudson. “Now, do you want to be in the middle of a wrestling match every night? Maybe not.”
To Vol Nation, Smokey is a symbol of Tennessee pride. But to the Hudsons, he’s always been their family pet.
“We love him and he's part of our family,” said Hudson.
Smoky XI will be the next mascot of the Vols
RELATED: HomeGrown: Smokey X
In fact, inside the Hudson home, every Smokey dog has always had pet names. For example, Smokey X also answers to Nugget.
“We named him nugget because of his love for chicken nuggets when he was a pup," said Hudson.
So, it’s only fitting this pair answers to another VFL duo.
“Their pet names are Bernie and Ernie for Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld,” said Hudson.
Cindy’s late husband, Charles, and Smokey X were inseparable. She said that when he passed away around 4 years ago, Smokey X mourned as much as the rest of the family.
And Charles loved Tennessee Basketball as much as he loved Tennessee Football, so Cindy and her children couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to him.
“I think he would be thrilled by the pups’ nicknames. Now, would Charles have been a bit apprehensive about having two puppies? Probably. But he would be elated with them," she said.
Now, all three dogs live under one roof.
“We’ve got we've got lots of excitement here at the Hudson house right now," she said. "My neighbors are wonderful, and kudos to them.”
Like any young family, there are growing pains. Hudson said her coffee table has several teeth marks from Smokey XI, who used it as a toy growing up. From doctor’s appointments to feeding frenzies, Smokey XI goes above and beyond the normal intensity of the puppy phase.
“We're throwing down some food," said Hudson. "The amount of dog food I'm going through right now is pretty amazing.”
And, don’t forget puppy school!
Sandy Pope with Appalachian K-9 has been training dogs for decades and helped Smokey X be game-day ready.
“Smokey 11 is a bit, maybe, a kinder, gentler soul,” said Pope.
But the class is much more than obedience school. After all, the pup will be the center of meet-and-greets, celebrated by 102,000 fans. It's more than most dogs need to be able to handle.
“He has to be friendly with people and cannot bite anyone,” said Pope. “And, he has to be comfortable in a crowd, but mostly we want him to sit and pose for pictures.”
They’re training Smokey XI to recognize hand motions because even with long ears, voice commands can’t compete with Rocky Top’s roar. And Sandy said she is pleased with his progress! She said he is going to be very willing to be obedient at games, and she expects him to be easy to handle.
But Smokey X isn’t turning over his leash just yet. His son will need to wait a little longer before taking over the field of Neyland Stadium.
“He still enjoys being a part of the football games,” said Hudson. “Smokey X will be ready to run in the fall. His health is awesome, thanks to the vet school.”
According to Hudson, Smokey X will lead the charge as long as he continues to enjoy game day. Meanwhile, Smokey XI will continue training and will be ready to follow in his father’s footsteps.
“Watch out Vol Nation, Smokey XI is going to be a little longer, and bigger than his dad!” said Hudson.