Tennessee football was hit harder by the transfer portal than any other school. However, the transfer portal wasn’t all negative as the Vols gained 10 players this offseason.
“Obviously, our roster changed,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “By the time I got there in late January, there were a large number of kids in the transfer portal. At the same time, we’ve been able to add really quality individuals inside our program. We love the player, but we love the person too and what they’re bringing as far as the culture piece inside of our program.
“So I feel really good about what we’ve added. A majority of those guys we really feel like are going to play meaningful snaps right from the get-go when we kick off in September. A handful, or a couple of those guys, I should say, are guys that will have to earn it, like they all will, but guys that are going to develop in our program.”
Heupel, Alontae Taylor and Velus Jones Jr. talked about some of the Vols’ newcomers and what they bring to a team in desperate need of contributors in 2021.
Here’s what the Vols said.
Mississippi State receiver JaVonta Payton
“Just watching him, strength and condition, he’s fast,” Heupel said of Payton. “He’s explosive. He’s got a natural set of hands. I really feel like he’s got an opportunity to compete and earn a spot and be a difference maker for us this fall. He’s experienced, and I think that’s important too. Just that wide receiver room, we have a little bit of age on the top, but we’re really young underneath. So his experience, having played in this league, I think is important for us and was an important piece for us to add this spring.”
“With JaVonta, older guy, veteran and stuff, and you know, working out with him really — I didn’t know he was going to be as tall as he was, but he’s really explosive and also fast and has like a big catch radius,” Jones Jr. said of Payton. “So working with that guy, he has something to prove, I have something to prove, we all have something to prove. So we talk about how we’re going to better the younger guys and just take a step forward with this program to have the season I know we can have.”
Michigan quarterback Joe Milton
“To me, Joe’s got a unique skill set,” Heupel said. “A strong arm, accurate passer. I think he’s a very bright young man that’s picked up on what we’ve done so far really well. He’s talented. He can spread the football field from sideline to sideline and vertically and has a unique skill set with his size and mobility to use his feet as a weapon as well.”
“Joe is a great guy,” Jones Jr. said. “As soon as he came in, he fit in with the guys well, has a great personality, a great sense of humor. He’s just a hard-working guy that wants to be great, and that’s all of us, you know. We come in, we compete, in the weight room, everything we do, we compete. That’s how you bring the best out of people.”
Texas linebacker Juwan Mitchell
“Juwan Mitchell, he’s been working really hard,” Taylor said. “He’s a guy that has a lot of passion about what he does and he focuses on the little details.”
Taylor also said Mitchell was the player that stood out to him the most when he first met him.
“I looked at him and was like ‘woah’. JuJu is a good guy. A good leader. A guy that’s really already taught me a lot of things already that he learned at Texas and brought over to us.”
Southern California defensive lineman Caleb Tremblay
“With Caleb Tremblay, you have a very strong, smart player with technique,” Jones Jr said. “You know, just motivated in his passion for the game, especially his work ethic in the weight room. Those two guys are great guys, you know, just to be around and stuff like that. I’m so excited for them to be here with me at Tennessee. It’s definitely going to be a great time.”
Southern California kicker Chase McGrath
“Chase McGrath with his clutch field goals,” Jones Jr. said. “You probably remember the Texas game that was played at USC a couple years ago, won that for us. Also, he has a record tied for most field goals at USC. Chase is a veteran, and I know he’s going to win some games for us.”
Auburn defensive back Kamal Hadden and Alabama defensive back Brandon Turniage
“The biggest thing I could say is hard workers,” Taylor said. “Those guys come to work every day. I work out at 7:00 in the morning with Brandon, and me and him have a lot of conversations about where he just came from and things like that. But just seeing how hard he works and how dedicated he is to what he’s doing is fun.”
“Brandon’s a hard worker,” Taylor said. “He’s a really good guy. Brandon is funny but he knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to put his head down and grind.”
Other incoming transfers that could factor next season include Kansas defensive tackle Da’Jon Terry, Michigan linebacker William Mohan and Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker.