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    (Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI)

    Tennessee senior left guard Trey Smith told ESPN’s Chris Low on Monday that he wants to play in the 2020 college football season.

    “I want to play,” Smith told Low in an ESPN article. “I want to play safely, and that’s the consensus across the sport and all the guys I talk to.

    “We all want to play the game of football that we love. We’re all out here working our butts off in this hot sun and trying to get better at our craft and perfect our craft.”

    Smith decided to return for his senior season instead of entering the 2020 NFL Draft following a great junior season. The Jackson, Tennessee native is viewed by many to be one of the best offensive lineman in all of college football, and is viewed to have a strong chance of being a first round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

    “It would tick me off to my core if we’re snubbed and that opportunity gets taken away from me to go out there and prove myself,” Smith told ESPN. “I’m not knocking any president or chancellor, who absolutely do fabulous jobs, but it would be awesome as players if we could be informed and heard from and quit finding out things about the season possibly being canceled on Twitter and in the media.”

    Smith returned last season from a medical issue involving blood clots that cost him the second half of his sophomore season. Returning to play his junior season, he played in all 13 of Tennessee’s games and started in 12 of them. Smith expressed to ESPN that he understands the risks involved with the coronavirus pandemic and is well aware that his risk factor is elevated because of his medical history.

    “It would be borderline ignorant to say that it’s not concerning,” Smith said. “We’ve definitely talked about it as a family, prayed about it and asked God to protect me. The doctors at Tennessee and Coach [Jeremy] Pruitt have been great at keeping us informed on everything. But at the end of the day, we as players have to take the proper precautions. So, yes, it’s something you weigh: Is it worth it? Is it not worth it? Ultimately, to get to my dream goals and aspirations, it’s worth the risk for me.

    “I’ve set a group of goals I want to accomplish in life, and not having the chance to play this season would be hard to grasp after everything I’ve overcome… I want to go out there and prove myself. I have a lot of doubters out there, and it really ticks me off even thinking about it. I really wanted to reintroduce myself again this season as a dominant force.”

    Smith has been named to the Outland Trophy Preseason Watch List and the Wuerffel Trophy Preseason Watch List entering the 2020 season. He has also been named a Preseason First-Team All-American (Athlon, Sporting News, Phil Steele), a Preseason Second-Team All-American (Walter Camp) and named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team (Athlon, College Football News, Phil Steele) leading into the season.

    The 6-foot-6, 335-pound offensive linemen was named a finalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award following the season and was the winner of the inaugural Fritz Pollard Trophy, given to the collegiate player who has “exemplified extraordinary courage, community values, and exceptional performance on the field.”

    Smith signed with Tennessee as the No. 1 overall player in the country according to ESPN’s recruiting rankings in the 2017 class. Smith earned All-State honors from 2015-17 as a five-star at the University School in Jackson. He was also a two-time Tennessee Mr. Football winner.

    As a true freshman, Smith started all 12 games for the Vols. He went on to earn All-SEC Second Team and SEC All-Freshman Team honors, in addition to Freshman All-American honors from several organizations. Smith became the first Vol true freshman to start at left tackle in over 30 years when did so against Southern Miss. He led the Vols with 55 knockdowns and finished as the SEC’s top-rated freshman offensive player (80.6) according to PFF College.

      (Photo courtesy of UTSports.com)

      Walk-on quarterback Kasim Hill is transferring from Tennessee according to a report from Fox Sports Knoxville’s Trey Wallace. The redshirt-junior is no longer listed on the team’s online roster.

      Hill transferred to Tennessee from Maryland during last fall camp. He did not appear in any games for the Vols, but played the role of scout team quarterback throughout the season.

      The 6-foot-2, 234-pound quarterback from St. John’s College High School in Washington D.C. was a four-star pro-style quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class. He signed with Maryland and was ranked as the No. 233 overall recruit and No. 10 pro-style quarterback in the 2017 class according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He held offers from Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Boston College, Vanderbilt, and others.

      Hill started the first 10 games of the season for the Terrapins in 2018, but he suffered an ACL injury that sidelined him the final two games of the season. Before the injury, Hill completed just 49.4 percent of his 170 pass attempts for 1,083 yards, nine touchdowns, and eight interceptions. His best performances of the season came against Texas and Illinois. Against the Longhorns, Hill led the Terrapins to a 34-29 victory by completing 17 of his 29 pass attempts for 222 yards and a touchdown. Against Illinois, he passed for a career-high 265 yards and three touchdowns on 11-of-19 passing.

      As a true freshman in 2017. Hill appeared in three games and made two starts for Maryland before he sustained a season-ending injury against UCF on September 23rd. He completed 85.7 percent of his 21 pass attempts for 230 yards and two touchdowns in his three appearances, adding 60 rushing yards and a score on 12 carries.

      Tennessee currently has four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster heading into the 2020 season. Redshirt senior Jarrett Guarantano is the Vols’ likely starter, and he’s backed up by redshirt sophomore JT Shrout, sophomore Brian Maurer and true freshman Harrison Bailey.

        (Photo courtesy of UTK Chancellor Donde Plowman’s Twitter)

        In the wake of the Big 10 reportedly moving to cancel its 2020 football season, University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman met with Jeremy Pruitt’s football team on Monday afternoon, Plowman shared on Twitter.

        “This afternoon, I met with out football team and staff to have an open conversation about playing football this fall,” Plowman wrote. “At the end of our discussion, I asked if they wanted to play football and the answer was a resounding YES.

        “This group of student-athletes have worked hard to prepare for the season amidst detailed and strict healthy and safety protocols. I can’t wait to see them on the field in Neyland Stadium.”

        Plowman’s meeting with the team comes following reports on Sunday night that the Big 10 was moving to cancel the upcoming season, and that the league held a meeting with other Power 5 commissioners to see who would follow.

        No major decisions were made on Sunday night, but ESPN reported that several Power 5 conference commissioners talked about trying to collaborate if their respective presidents do decide to cancel or postpone fall sports. Sources told ESPN that a vast majority of Big Ten presidents have indicated that they would vote to postpone football season, hopefully to the spring. A Big Ten official confirmed to ESPN that no official vote took place during Saturday’s meeting.

        Following Sunday night’s report, ESPN reported on Monday that the Pac-12 CEO group, made up of one president or chancellor from each of the conference’s 12 universities, will meet Tuesday and is expected to discuss and vote on how to proceed with the 2020 football season. The growing sense around the conference is that it is highly unlikely the Pac-12 will move forward with a fall season amid concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic and will look to play in the spring, if possible, sources told ESPN. An official decision will not come prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

        SEC commissioner Greg Sankey addressed the recent developments around college football on Twitter Monday morning.

        “Best advice I’ve received since COVID-19: ‘Be patient. Take time when making decisions. This is all new & you’ll gain better information each day,'” Sankey wrote. “The SEC has been deliberate at each step since March…slowed return to practice…delayed 1st game to respect start of fall semester….. Developed testing protocols…

        “We know concerns remain. We have never had a (football) season in a COVID-19 environment. Can we play? I don’t know. We haven’t stopped trying. We support, educate and care for student-athletes every day, and will continue to do so…every day.”

        The SEC is scheduled to begin its 10-game conference-only schedule Sept. 26. Fall camp for the Vols is slated to begin a week from today, Aug. 17.

          Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

          This Week in UT Sports History is a weekly series written by RTI columnist Lexie Little

          Tennessee will face five of the Top 15 teams in the country in 2020 should football season come to fruition. With the addition of non-divisional opponents No. 13 Texas A&M and No. 11 Auburn to the slate, the Vols find themselves battling both a global pandemic and a formidable schedule.

          Southeastern Conference officials announced new COVID-19 management requirements for athletics, including directives for testing and mask use, on Aug. 7. Football players and those in direct contact with the sport will receive a surveillance test at least twice per week during competition.

          Volleyball and soccer likewise will receive two surveillance tests weekly, while cross country student-athletes will receive one. Tests will likely be administered at six days and at three days before competition. All coaches and staff on the sidelines of football, soccer and volleyball games must wear face coverings and physically distance. Cross country athletes will wear face coverings at the starting line and remove them once runners meet distancing requirements.

          In 1918, health officials in Lexington, Missouri, encouraged gauze mask use, even for players, as the Spanish Influenza remained prevalent. Each player on the Wentworth Military Academy and St. John’s Military School football teams wore masks during play. On Oct. 10, 1918, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Washington University football players wore their “influenza masks of gauze” at all times while on campus except during practice. And on the same day in Knoxville, a Journal and Tribune headline caught attention: “1,045 ‘Flu’ Cases in Knoxville; Public Places Close Indefinitely…U. of T. Quarantined…”

          Masks, of course, were encouraged.

          While the University of Tennessee welcomes masked students back to campus this week, Rocky Top Insider takes a look back at other happenings this week in UT sports history:

          Aug. 16, 1936

          The SEC set Sept. 26 as football’s tentative opening Saturday for 2020. In 1936, the conference announced the same date would serve as the first for gridiron clashes. Anticipation rose for the conference’s fourth season when schedules hit the papers and teams learned what challenges awaited them on Aug. 16.

          Knoxville Journal reporter Doug Bean engaged in a hype brand of sports journalism to create a buzz for his beat alongside the printed schedule that would “come in handy” if readers might “clip it out and paste in a convenient place for future reference.”

          Terms of heroism and villainism permeated coverage to excite fans and entice preseason readership before “the Southern gridiron Titans [came] to grips early…along the Dixie football front.” Bean noted the “ambitious elevens” would face “worrisome foes” in “dizzying schedules.”

          Photo via Newspapers.com, The Knoxville Journal, Sunday, Aug. 16, 1936.

          The rollicking Tennessee Vols found the schedule dizzying, all right.

          An in-state matchup with Chattanooga kicked off the season, but the second game in Chapel Hill drew more attention. The “U-T warriors” had faced the North Carolina Tar Heels a season prior in a loss. With Auburn, Alabama, Duke and Georgia following the border state matchup, the Vols faced a tough stretch.

          “The Orangemen have some kind of stern apparition which looks suspiciously like a Tarheel confronting them on Oct. 3, and it will only be their second taste of fire,” Bean wrote. “That shuddery 38-13 plastering of last fall is probably smoldering in the minds of numerous of the Vols. The shellacking, coming entirely unexpectedly last season, wrecked the Vols and they had a hard time recovering the rest of the season.”

          History seemed to repeat itself. Tennessee went on to lose the second consecutive matchup with North Carolina, 14-6, at Kenan Memorial Stadium. A loss to Auburn at home and a 0-0 tie against Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham followed the trip across the mountain. However, Tennessee caught fire with a 15-13 win against No. 2 Duke at home. The Vols trounced Georgia in Athens, 46-0, and beat Maryville, Vanderbilt and Kentucky before a tie with Ole Miss to close the 1936 campaign.

          Though the SEC has yet to announce dates for the anticipated 2020 matchups, the Vols again face a tough schedule. However, an unexpected opponent, COVID-19, might prove the most formidable.

          Aug. 14, 1964

          While the schedule remains important to fans ahead of the season, ticket sales also garner attention. The main point man in 1964, business manager Gus Manning, had the scoop. Gen. Robert Neyland had hired Manning as sports information director, and Manning stayed on as an integral figure in Tennessee athletics, doing everything from booking travel to selling concessions and promoting ticket sales.

          “Alabama is leading the list as far as demands for home games go,” Manning told the Knoxville Journal ahead of the 1964 season. Ole Miss, despite ranking No. 1 in the country, sat at No. 2 on the Tennessee ticket demand list. After all, nothing beat the Third Saturday in October.

          “On the road, we have tickets to all games left, but the few remaining Georgia Tech seats are not good. Seats they are able to allot visiting teams are not always the best. This is no criticism of Tech. I just wish we were in the same shape here.”

          Manning outlined the family plan, which debuted a season prior, for adult tickets at $17 a pop and child tickets (16 and under) at $8.50. Additionally, high school students could get tickets for $1 in the north stands at lesser-attended games.

          In 2020, season ticket prices start at $550 per seat, including the gift to the Tennessee Fund and base ticket price. Tennessee also offered the Vol Pass for this season, a flex pass costing $300 that allows fans to choose from available seats for each home game. However, needs for social distancing and COVID-19 responses will undoubtedly alter capacity and attendance this year should the Vols have a season.

          Gus Manning attended home football games every season for 71 years. From the home-opener in 1946 to 2017, the athletics icon stood on the sidelines or in the stands or wherever he was needed. But like Manning’s streak, all must come to an end, and 2020 seems like the year many fans will miss a game for the first time in what feels like forever.

          Only time will tell.

            (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

            Bryce Thompson will be rocking a new jersey number in 2020.

            Thompson announced on Twitter Sunday afternoon that he’ll be wearing the No. 0 this season. The junior wore No. 20 during his freshman and sophomore season as a Vol. Thompson will be the first player in program history to wear No. 0.

            An NCAA rule change from over the offseason has allowed Thompson to make the jersey change. Starting this season, players are allowed to have the No. 0 as their jersey number. Players were previously only allowed to have a jersey number from No. 1 to No. 99. The use of duplicate numbers was also restricted to only two players on a team.

            Thompson nearly wore No. 3 last season. He wore No. 3 during fall camp a year ago, but changed back to No. 20 due to special teams reasons.

            The Irmo, South Carolina native enters the 2020 season as one of the cornerbacks in the SEC. Thompson has started 20 of the 22 games he has played in thus far and has six career interceptions – three in each of his first two seasons – which is tied for 13th in school history and one shy of the top seven. He’s also forced seven turnovers during his career with one forced fumble. In two years, he tallied seven pass breakups, 66 tackles and six tackles for loss.

            Thompson holds the single-game school record for interceptions with eight other players, a mark he achieved with three interceptions against UAB as a sophomore last season. He finished his second season with the Vols with 32 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, two pass breakups, three picks and one hurry. According to Pro Football Focus, Thompson did not allow a touchdown in 325 coverage snaps.

            As a freshman in 2018, Thompson finished with the highest grade of any true freshman cornerback in the nation. He played in all 12 games, making 10 starts, and led Tennessee in interceptions (three) and pass breakups (seven). His three interceptions ranked tied for third in the SEC and first among league freshmen, while his 10 passes defended ranked tied for ninth and first among newcomers. He also had 34 tackles, four tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

            Thompson signed with Tennessee as a four-star recruit and a top-10 prospect out of Irmo High School in South Carolina.

            Tennessee is set to begin fall practice Monday, Aug. 14. While we know Tennessee’s 2020 opponents, the 10-game conference-only schedule won’t be released until some time this week. The SEC is scheduled to begin its season Sept. 26, however.

              (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

              Tennessee basketball has never played for a National Championship. In fact, the Vols have never played in a Final Four. The furthest they’ve made it in the NCAA Tournament is the Elite Eight, a 2010 loss to Michigan State.

              Jerry Meyer, a basketball analyst for 247Sports, sees Tennessee’s drought of not playing for a title coming to an end very soon. In an article on 247 discussing which team is most equipped to end their title drought, Meyer chose the Vols.

              “I love the culture that is building at Tennessee under Rick Barnes,” Meyer said. “The Vols play a disciplined, hard nosed and attacking style. The momentum has been building for the Tennessee program and I expect them to be playing for a national title sooner than later.

              Michigan State was selected twice in the article, while Baylor also received a vote of confidence.

              “Just looking at this season, the Vols are bringing in the No. 4 recruiting class with two impact five-star prospects this season,” Meyer said. “Yves Pons and other quality players are returning as well.”

              The Vols return nine scholarship players from last year’s team that went 17-14 in the regular season and 9-9 in SEC play. Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Jalen Johnson are the only departures. Bowden and Turner graduated, while Johnson ultimately transferred to Wake Forest as a graduate transfer.

              Tennessee returns 67.7 percent of its scoring from a season ago with Pons back in the mix, according to UT basketball SID Tom Satkowiak. The Vols also return 69.7 percent of their rebounding production, 85.6 percent of their blocked shots, 66.1 percent of their steals, 68.7 percent of their minutes played and 71.6 percent of their starts.

              Five-star combo-guard signee Jaden Springer and fellow five-star guard signee Keon Johnson are expected to have a significant impact on the Vols this season. Four-star power forward signee Corey Walker has also impressed since stepping foot on campus.

              Another aspect of Tennessee’s program that caught the eye of Meyer is Barnes’ coaching staff, particularly second-year assistant Kim English. Fellow UT assistants Desmond Oliver and Mike Schwartz were named two of the five best assistants in the SEC on Friday, but it was English that stood out to Meyer because of his recruiting prowess.

              “Kim English has turned into an impact recruiter as an assistant and has the Vols in play for the likes of top 5 prospect Paulo Banchero who is across the country in Seattle, Washington,” Meyer said.

              Tennessee’s 2020-21 season is currently scheduled to begin Nov. 11 when it travels to Wisconsin. The conference schedule has not yet been released, but we do know the Vols will play Cincinatti in Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 12 before traveling to Nashville on Dec. 19 to take on arch-rival Memphis at Bridgestone Arena.

              UT also has non-conference games scheduled with Presbyterian, Tennessee Tech, George Washington, USC Upstate and Norfolk State. The game against Presbyterian on Nov. 14 will be the home-opener.