Tennessee redshirt freshman Jared Dickey’s collegiate career began with an abnormal choice to make.
“He basically had to make a decision,” Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. “‘Do I want to play baseball still? And do I want to be an effective baseball player, and get myself in shape?’”
Dickey, a top 20 prospect in the state of Tennessee, moved to Knoxville in August of 2020 weighing 265 pounds. The Mount Juliet native was 40 pounds heavier than he was when he committed to Tennessee just two-and-a-half years prior.
The Friendship Christian School outfielder had to either “completely change every part” of his life or quit the sport he came to Knoxville to play.
That query led to a commitment that changed not only Dickey’s baseball career, but his mental well-being and life.
Finding The Help He Needed
Completely dedicated to Tennessee and his own baseball future, Dickey faced an uphill climb to helping the Vols on the field. But first, Dickey had to address the root cause of his weight gain.
Dickey weighed around 225 pounds when he committed to Tennessee his sophomore year of high school— before Vitello coached his first game in Knoxville.
The high school outfielder gained a “little weight” after undergoing shoulder surgery his junior year but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that things spiraled. Dickey was dealing with depression and lacking motivation as the world shut down.
Dickey didn’t open up about his depression due to fear that others wouldn’t understand and the stigma surrounding male athletes and mental health.
“I always thought if I come out and say this people are going to be like ‘no, that’s not a real thing. You’re a guy. You’re supposed to be strong,’” Dickey said.
As important as the conversation on his baseball future with Vitello was, approaching his new coach to address the mental health issues he was facing was even more so.
“Really coach (Vitello) and the whole staff honestly,” Dickey said on why he decided to seek therapy. “I came to them one day and talked to them about it and they were so helpful with everything. It was really a weight lifted off my heart because just knowing how much they cared and how much stuff they had been through.”
“It was something that I definitely wasn’t expecting. In high school, I went to a small private school so all my friends, they pretty much lived their best life. All their families had money. It seemed like they were living the perfect life, and I guess I just tried to be like that too much. I knew I wasn’t living that life. I didn’t have aspirations to live the life that they did so whenever I got here and saw them (Tennessee’s coaches) want to push towards the mental health side, it was awesome to see.”
Dickey began working with a therapist in Knoxville and after four-to-five weeks was seeing real results while regaining his confidence. Dickey’s mental healing since joining Tennessee baseball is part of why he believes his decision to commit himself to baseball is “the greatest thing” he’s ever done.
Losing 75 Pounds In One Year
Former Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Quentin Eberhardt knew of Dickey as a recruit and Vol commit when he saw a picture of the Friendship Christian standout a few months before he’d arrive in Knoxville.
“The thing that went through my head was we have some work to do when he gets to campus,” Eberhardt said.
That work was two-fold. Dickey needed to make major improvements to his diet while putting in time in the weight room. Tennessee didn’t “do anything drastic” with Dickey’s diet, centering the change around cutting out junk food and drinks.
“A lot of broccoli, a lot of rice and a lot of chicken,” Dickey said with a chuckle. “That was pretty much it for a while.”
As for cutting unhealthy food, Dickey had the hardest time saying goodbye to a classic Little Debbie snack.
“I’m not going to lie to you, I was always a zebra cake advocate,” Dickey said. “I would absolutely hammer those things.”
Training got off to a predictably rough start for the 265-pound freshman. Eberhardt remembers that Dickey “had a rough time (getting) through” his first team workout, but it didn’t take the redshirting freshman long to find his stride.
Dickey lost 40-pounds by the time he went back to Mount Juliet for Christmas break thanks to a “massive cardio circuit” in the fall. He dropped 10 more pounds after “grinding” over the four-week Christmas break.
Working out four days a week at the facility in addition to practicing during the season, Eberhardt was conscientious about not wanting to burn Dickey out. However, Dickey’s approach was tireless. On days where the team wouldn’t work out — or even days they did — Dickey and fellow redshirt Ben Joyce would find different facilities to get extra work in.
“Me and Ben (Joyce) were going to work out at other places after we got our lifts here,” Dickey said. “We wouldn’t work out on Saturday or Sunday here at the fields so me and him would go to the TRECS or Ben knew a place because he’s from here so we would always go do something.”
Dickey weighed 205 pounds at the end of his freshman year, dropped down to 195 pounds last summer and hit his lowest weight — 190 pounds — in fall practice this season. The second-year Vol is playing at 195 pounds this season.
A Breakout Season Full Of Adversity
Eberhardt wanted to make something very clear about Dickey.
“Like, let’s get this out of the way,” Eberhardt said. “Jared Dickey has been raking since I assume he was in little league. The kid can just hit.”
Two weeks into his redshirt freshman season and 19 months after going all-in on his collegiate baseball career, Dickey was in the starting lineup as the Vols began play at the Shriners Hospital College Classic against No. 1 Texas.
Dickey proved Eberhardt right, hitting 4-of-10 with two walks in three games against Big 12 foes — two of which are playing in the NCAA Tournament Super Regionals — etching out a consistent starting role in Tennessee’s loaded lineup.
“It’s a great feeling, I can’t lie,” Dickey said of his success. “I have to credit my teammates and my coaches because pretty much without them I wouldn’t be in this position. They all supported me through all the hard stuff during freshman year, and they were there to push me during practice.”
The utility man was an everyday fixture at either left field or designated hitter in Tennessee’s lineup, and was hitting .403 when he exited the Vols’ series finale against Ole Miss due to injury.
The diagnosis was a deep bone bruise in Dickey’s right foot. The injury didn’t sideline the utility man, but severely hampered him. Dickey couldn’t play in the field and was only serving as the designated hitter for a month. Then, the injury worsened during Tennessee’s late April sweep of Florida, completely sidelining him for over a month.
Since returning, Dickey has only pinch hit as baserunning puts too much pressure on his foot. In three plate appearances since returning from injury, Dickey’s reached base each time including a leadoff single in Tennessee’s ninth-inning comeback against Georgia Tech.
Tony Vitello and Eberhardt rave about Dickey as a teammate and his daily attitude. Dickey credits his positive outlook and willingness to work every day to wanting to push his teammates to get better.
“If you want to win like what we’re going for, if you want to go for the College World Series then it’s a team thing,” Dickey said. “It’s not an individual thing.”
Dickey’s mindset is normal for an accomplished, upperclassmen team leader. It is harder to find among redshirt freshmen with no established role entering the season. It’s the same mindset that made Dickey commit to bettering himself on and off the field when he first enrolled at Tennessee.
“He’s very intrinsically motivated,” Eberhardt said. “I told him ‘this is going to be really hard for you. For you to do it the right way and for it to stay off it’s going to take a lot of sacrifice and discipline.’”
“That is who he is.”