Senior day is always an emotional time for college football players. It should be even more heart-wrenching for the group of Tennessee football players that will run through the ‘T’ one last time. Let’s face it, they’ve been through quite a bit.
Tennessee’s seniors have been part of a laughingstock for most of their careers. Sure, they’re contending for a berth in the College Football playoff now, but that wasn’t always the case. Moreover, they didn’t have to believe in the direction of the program, especially after they had been misled by former coaches who were in way over their heads. These Vols stuck around. They might not be champions, but they should be remembered as the players that laid the foundation of what might become a pretty special run for the Vols in the coming years.
Obviously, that conversation starts with quarterback Hendon Hooker. His story is well chronicled and amazing. He was tossed aside at Virginia Tech, beaten out for the starting position heading into the 2021 season and has since become a strong Heisman Trophy contender. Those kind of stories don’t happen very often. Combine all of that with the fact that Hooker’s first NIL move was to start a Biblical scripture comic book and, well, that’s pretty incredible.
Size, speed and play-making ability don’t define these Vols, even though they’re pretty good at that. Dedication is what they should be a remembered for. It’s impossible to cite every player and what he’s done for UT’s football program to help it rise from pathetic to pertinent. However, here are a few that deserve a shoutout:
Cedric Tillman not only stayed around through the coaching fiasco; he also fought back to get back in the lineup after suffering an ankle sprain against Akron. He could have hung it up and thought about his NFL future. He didn’t. Ramel Keyton could have pouted as Tillman received the preseason praise, Jalin Hyatt became a star and Bru McCoy went from transfer to a top target. Instead, Keyton was always ready when needed.
Jacob Warren and Princeton Fant truly blossomed in their time under Tennessee coach Josh Heupel. Warren became a proven threat at receiver. Fant has done a little bit of everything, including playing fullback. Oh, and both also have to block for that Heisman candidate I just mentioned. Their commitment to Tennessee’s football program has been incredible.
If I were Darnell Wright and Tennessee’s coaches asked me to move from left tackle, where he started every game last season, to right tackle during the offseason, I might have just transferred on the spot. Wright didn’t. He trusted his coaches, has excelled and will be a standout player in the NFL at right tackle, which just happens to be a better position for him when he’s a pro. As for Jerome Carvin and Jeremiah Crawford, how many times did they beat their heads against the wall (or their defensive line counterparts in practice) before finally becoming key parts of one of the better offensive lines in the SEC. They were told all offseason that they would be part of a weak link for the Vols up front. Nothing could be further from the case.
If Byron Young isn’t one of the best stories in college football, then I’m missing a lot of really good stories. Young was working at a Dollar General store before he decided to pursue his dream of playing football for a living. Now, he’s excelled at UT and will almost assuredly have a long NFL career. LaTrell Bumphus also deserves major kudos. Perhaps not a star, Bumphus has continued to plug along and has turned into a very solid player for the Vols.
Jeremy Banks has become an electric playmaker for the Vols that always seems to be around the ball. Aaron Beasley might not be quite as athletic, but he’s always been steady, which is asking a lot in the SEC. Speaking of being around the ball, who can forget Juwan Mitchell’s interception against Kentucky. Solon Page III has also been an important player for Tennessee this season.
There are plenty of other seniors that have given their all when nothing was assured, promised or even seemed likely. The 2022 class shouldn’t be forgotten no matter what happens for the remainder of the season.