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Tennessee WR coach Kelsey Pope has been gold mine find for Vols

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Tennessee receiver coach Kelsey Pope met with the media on Wednesday. That needs to be an ongoing affair for many years into the future.

Pope has quietly become one of the most coveted, young assistant coaches in the nation. He certainly wasn’t that just two years ago. Pope was just an offensive analyst before the 2022 season. Then, he was promoted to receivers coach. That worked out. In his first season, his tutelage produced Jalin Hyatt, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel could have probably kept Pope as an analyst and hired another, more established, coach that would have loved a shot at a full-time coaching job at Tennessee. Well, Pope wanted the same thing and now loyalty is paying off.

Pope seems to be at the center of the majority of Tennessee’s highly rated recruiting battles. That aspect of his coaching seems valuable enough that the Vols doubled his pay for the upcoming season, from $275,000 to $550,000. Now, there will be more expected of Pope.

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Pope has to answer quite a few questions about the Vols’ receiving group. First, is Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton ready to be a contributor this season after a disappointing season last year that ended in a season-ending injury? If Thornton is 100-percent, should he play slot receiver or wideout? After that question is answered, everything would seem to fall into place.

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Pope was a big part of why Hyatt went from barely playing to setting the college football world on fire. Hyatt mentioned repeatedly that it was the work he did in the offseason that took him from subpar to superstar. Now, Pope just has to do that with Thornton: his most important offseason project.

There is really no concern that any of the Vols’ other receivers will get lost or take a step back this season. Players like Bru McCoy and Squirrel White have plenty to play for this season with an NFL contract or NIL deal on the line. Even though McCoy is injured, Tennessee will most likely get his and White’s best this fall. 

The combination of McCoy, White and a rejuvenated Thornton is enticing. Just how that works depends on Thornton and a coach that the Vols should be glad they took a chance on.

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