The Vols return all of their starters and role players along the defensive line from 2019, but depth after this season is a big question mark. Tennessee loses seven defensive linemen to graduation after the 2020 season, meaning the Vols are in need of finding their future starting defensive linemen now.
Tennessee’s coaches have made defensive line a priority in the 2021 recruiting cycle, and it looks as though UT is also reaching into the transfer portal to address that need.
Mississippi State defensive tackle Fabien Lovett put his name in the NCAA transfer portal last week, and according to Lovett himself, Tennessee is one of the many schools that have reached out to him.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound lineman told Chris Hummer of 247Sports that his phone has been “on fire” from schools contacting him. About two dozen schools have reached out to Lovett, including Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, Ole Miss, Michigan, and Houston among others.
Lovett — who is a former four-star prospect out of the 2018 class — played in 11 games for the Bulldogs last season as a redshirt freshman. He totaled 19 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in those 11 appearances. Against Tennessee in Mississippi State’s 20-10 loss to the Vols in Knoxville, Lovett totaled a career-high four tackles and had half a sack and half a tackle for loss.
The Olive Branch, Mississippi product came on strong in the last bit of the season, totaling 2.0 of his 2.5 tackles for loss in the Bulldogs’ final three games of the year, including their 38-28 loss to Louisville in the Music City Bowl.
The talented defensive linemen is one of two Mississippi State players to put their name in the transfer portal after a controversial tweet from new Bulldogs head coach Mike Leach last week.
Both Lovett and freshman offensive lineman Brevyn Jones have announced their intent to transfer after Leach posted a tweet depicting a woman knitting a noose for her husband with the caption, “After 2 weeks of quarantine with her husband, Gertrude decided to knit him a scarf..”
Leach has since deleted the tweet and apologized on Twitter. But that didn’t assuage the concerns Lovett and his father, Abdual, had about Leach’s ability to lead young men.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with my son being down there with a guy like that from a leadership standpoint — that you can just throw anything out there,” Abdual told the Clarion Ledger on Saturday. “I feel if he can do it, the kids are going to feel like they can do it.”
As for Fabien Lovett, he says visits will play an important role in his decision of where to transfer. Right now, visits are prohibited by recruits, players, or coaches amidst the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped Lovett from taking some virtual tours of campuses. Tennessee is one of the schools Lovett hopes to visit once he’s able.
“Florida State, Oregon, Tennessee. and Michigan hopefully,” Lovett said of the schools he wants to visit. “I’ve just got to wait until all this corona stuff flies over. But they have been calling me on Facetime and showing me their facilities.”
Lovett will apply for immediate eligibility wherever he transfers, and he has three years of eligibility remaining.
Coming out of high school, Lovett was a four-star and the No. 14 strong-side defensive end in the 2018 class per 247Sports. The 247Sports Composite rankings had Lovett as the No. 436 overall prospect and No. 18 strong-side defensive end. He held offers from Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, and others before choosing Mississippi State. Lovett amassed 81 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 6.5 sacks in 2017 as a senior at Olive Branch High School.