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Tennessee Football: Vols WR Squirrel White Isn’t Quiet Anymore

Squirrels are typically quiet. Not Tennessee receiver Squirrel White, who has clearly grown much more comfortable in press conference settings and, almost assuredly, on the field now that he’s in his second season as a Vol.

Confidence certainly wasn’t an issue when White was asked how he and quarterback Joe Milton III compared to other athletes.

“Shaq and Kobe,” White said with a smile, referring to former Los Angeles Lakers’ stars Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant before rethinking his answer. “No, as a matter of fact, I’ll say Mike and Pippen.”

The latter comparison is a reference to former Chicago Bulls’ stars Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who won six NBA Championships. If Milton and White, who admits he’s the Pippen of the duo, are anything like the Bulls of the 1990’s, Tennessee should be in good shape this season. Nevertheless, White’s answer, his smile and his willingness to joke with the media exudes confidence for a player that seemed a bit introverted last season.

“For you guys, it’s a glimpse into his true and real personality,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “Initially getting here, being in a new environment and new people and being at this level of college football, he was very intentional in how he worked and competed. At times, maybe you didn’t see his true personality.”

While his personality has been on display more than his freshman season in 2022, White doesn’t seem cocky nor self-centered. 

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“If I’m the guy, I’m the guy, but if I’m not, I’m going to do whatever the team needs me to do,” the sophomore said.

Being “the guy” would mean being the No. 1 option at the slot receiver position in front of Dont’e Thornton, who transferred in January from Oregon. For now, there’s no clearcut first option in the slot. That could make things interesting.

The Vols’ most prevalent formation last season was based on three receivers, a tight end and a running back. That could change with White and Thornton at slot receiver and Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton manning the wideouts – all at the same time.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of four-wide receivers (sets),” White said. “I’d like to see that. All of us on the field dominating.”

The relationship with Milton goes beyond their chemistry on the football field. The two often play video games together and even ride jet skis. Take that Shaq. There probably isn’t a jet ski in the world that could fit O’Neal’s massive frame.

White said he’s learned plenty from former UT receivers. He said he’s learned leadership skills from former Vol Cedric Tillman and a strong work ethic from former Vol Jalin Hyatt. Both were selected in the NFL Draft in April and are becoming standouts in training camp. White is on his way.

“I definitely feel more confident,” he said. “I feel bigger. I feel faster.”

White also feels like more of a leader as he shared some advice for the Vols’ younger receivers.

“It goes fast,” he said. “Just embrace it all. You never know when it’s going to be your time. Treat every rep like you’re the starter.”

That’s what Heupel wants to hear, whether White is outspoken or not.

“He cares,” Heupel said. “He’s really engaged and he likes to have fun. He comes out with energy every single day and competes really hard.” 

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