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Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

Tennessee student-athletes have begun returning to campus in preparation of voluntary workouts beginning on June 8th.

Athletes are making their return to Rocky Top while the COVID-19 global pandemic is still ongoing. As it will be a tricky situation this coming Monday when athletes resume workouts, Tennessee’s athletic department released a detailed plan on Wednesday afternoon out-lining what will take place in order to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Here’s the full statement from Tennessee athletics:

UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE STUDENT-ATHLETE RETURN TO CAMPUS POLICY

The University of Tennessee Athletic Department continues to work closely with campus officials and local and state health departments while following federal guidance pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic. This document is designed to answer frequently asked questions concerning the return of student-athletes back to campus and athletic activity. Adjustments to policies may be required periodically based on new data and/or recommendations from healthcare experts.

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS DISEASE (COVID-19), AND WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

COVID-19 is a respiratory viral illness caused by a new virus. It is most commonly transmitted through respiratory droplets from an infected person (i.e. coughs, sneezing, nasal discharge, saliva). It may also be contracted through contact with contaminated surfaces (i.e. door knobs, counter tops, desk tops, etc). The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include: Cough, Fever, Shortness of Breath/Difficult Breathing, Chills, Muscle Pain, Headaches, Sore Throat, Fatigue, New Loss of Taste or Smell and less commonly Nausea, Vomiting and Diarrhea.

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS EACH STUDENT-ATHLETE CAN REDUCE THE RISKS OF GETTING INFECTED?

Several personal hygiene strategies have been shown to be effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. These include:

  • Social Distancing/Physical Separation (maintaining at least six feet of spacing from others): While social distancing is not always possible in sports, we have designed a plan within the athletic facilities to space out student-athletes as much as possible. For example, treatment tables and taping stations will be separated by six feet in the training rooms, and weightlifting stations will also be separated by at least six feet in the weight rooms.
  • Face Masks: The use of face masks has been shown to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets from one person to another, especially in those individuals who may have an asymptomatic infection. Student-athletes will be required to wear masks in UT athletic facilities. Cloth face masks will be provided to each student-athlete and will be laundered for them by the equipment staff.
  •  Handwashing and Cough/Sneeze Etiquette: Student-athletes are encouraged to wash their hands frequently. Hand sanitizer is stationed throughout the facilities for easy access.
  • Coughing and sneezing into your arm or sleeve, particularly if not wearing a mask, will reduce the spread of respiratory droplets in the air.
  • Stay at Home if You’re Sick
  • We ask student-athletes not to present to the athletic facilities if they are sick. Instead, they will be instructed to call their athletic trainer and schedule a same-day appointment to be evaluated by the on-site Team Physician. This process helps reduce interaction of sick student athletes with those who are well.
  • Disinfection and Sanitation: All athletic facilities are cleaned daily with approved disinfectants. This includes all shared equipment before and after it is used by a student-athlete.

WILL STUDENT-ATHLETES BE TESTED FOR COVID-19 WHEN THEY ARRIVE ON CAMPUS?

Yes.

Just prior to the start of athletic activities, each student-athlete will undergo two tests:

  • Nasal Swab PCR Test — Used to diagnose anyone with an active COVID-19 infection
  • Antibody Blood Test — Used to diagnose anyone with a prior COVID-19 infection

Since some individuals—particularly young, healthy people—can have an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection, the purpose of the nasal swab PCR test is to identify anyone with an active infection and appropriately isolate and treat those individuals prior to starting sport training per Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. In addition, University Housing requires anyone living in on-campus housing (dorms) to have a negative test. This nasal swab PCR test will satisfy that requirement.

The purpose of the antibody test is to identify those individuals who may have had a prior infection and to closely evaluate him/her for any potential lung or heart injury that may have occurred from the infection. Unfortunately, there is insufficient data currently to know if a prior infection with the presence of antibodies provides any immunity or protection from a second infection. Therefore, student-athletes with positive antibodies will still be required to participate in all precautionary measures to reduce risk of infections.

Future COVID-19 testing will occur for anyone who presents with symptoms worrisome for an infection. Screening tests for teams throughout the season may occur and will be guided by campus, SEC and NCAA officials.

WILL THERE BE ANY DAILY HEALTH SCREENS FOR STUDENT-ATHLETES?

Yes. Each student-athlete will complete a questionnaire screening for any symptoms of COVID-19 or possible exposure.

In addition, one’s temperature will be checked by a sports medicine staff member. If a student-athlete were to have symptoms or an elevated temperature, he/she will return to the dorm or his/her vehicle (if lives off-campus) and wait for a phone call from the athletic trainer for a same-day appointment with the Team Physician to be evaluated. Staff members (i.e. coaches, support staff) will follow the university’s daily screening policy.

WHAT HAPPENS IF A STUDENT-ATHLETE IS ILL AND TESTS POSITIVE FOR COVID-19?

Any student-athlete who presents with signs/symptoms of COVID-19 will be evaluated by the on-site Team Physician, and testing will be performed, if appropriate. If a test is positive, the student-athlete will be isolated and treated as outlined by CDC guidelines. Isolation will either occur in his/her dorm as directed by University Housing or in off-campus housing as directed by the athletic department. Frequent follow-up of the student-athlete will be done by the sports medicine staff. In addition, other individuals who are determined to be close contacts of the infected student-athlete will also be isolated and monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

WILL ALL STUDENT-ATHLETES ARRIVE AT THE SAME TIME TO START SPORT TRAINING?

No.

Student-athletes will arrive on-campus in a phased approach throughout the summer. Student-athletes participating in football and basketball will arrive first. Your coaching staff will provide specific information on your team’s starting date(s). Please know that we plan to complete proactive testing on all staff members who may interact with student-athletes.

You may have many other questions concerning our plans for the return of student-athletes to campus that are not addressed in this document. We are available to answer those questions. If you have specific inquiries, please contact the athletic trainer for your sport.

    (Photo via Danny Wilson)

    Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors may have had a rocky relationship after Fulmer replaced Majors as head coach in 1992, but the two appeared to try and put their differences aside over the last few years. Now, Majors has passed away, and Fulmer is left without his former instructor.

    Majors passed away on Wednesday at the age of 85. The former Tennessee player and head coach had been involved with UT football for decades and still stayed around campus when he could. Now, his presence will be missed by all those at the University of Tennessee, and that includes Fulmer.

    Fulmer served as an assistant coach under Majors from 1980 through part of the 1992 season. Fulmer took over as Tennessee’s head coach after Majors was let go following the conclusion of the 1992 regular season, and the two combined to coach Tennessee from 1977 through 2008, amassing five SEC titles, a national championship, and 268 wins in the process.

    On Wednesday afternoon, Fulmer said the passing of the legendary coach is a “sad day” for Tennessee athletics.

    “It’s a sad day. He gave many of us coaches our start in big-time college football,” Fulmer, now Tennessee’s Athletics Director, said in a statement. “He mentored us, pushed us, and allowed us to be part of the proud resurgence of Tennessee football. He touched and changed many lives for the good, and our thoughts are with his family, former players, and great fans who are remembering him today.”

    Fulmer served as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in the early 1990s and filled in for Majors as UT’s interim head coach for the first three games of the 1992 season after Majors had heart surgery. Tennessee started the season 3-0, and Majors returned after the Vols’ 31-14 victory over No. 4 Florida. After defeating Cincinnati and LSU, Tennessee lost three-straight games before finishing the regular season with wins against Memphis State, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt.

    Majors resigned at the end of the regular season after Tennessee didn’t honor the remainder of his contract, and Fulmer took over for Tennessee’s bowl game, a 38-23 victory over Boston College in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

    For years, Majors made it clear that he believed there was some sort of behind-the-scenes subterfuge that led Fulmer to taking over, but the two appeared to publicly be patching things over throughout the last few years.

    Majors was named the SEC Player of the Year in consecutive years as a player for Tennessee in 1955 and 1956, and he finished in second place in the Heisman Trophy ballot in 1956. As a coach, Majors took over a struggling Tennessee program and led them back to greatness. After winning a national title with Pittsburgh in 1976, Majors came back to his home of Tennessee to lead the Vols as head coach.

    The Vols suffered in the final few years of the Bill Battle era, and Majors’ first few seasons at the helm weren’t easy. Majors’ first season saw Tennessee finish 4-7 and just 1-5 in SEC play, and the Vols went jut 5-5-1 the following season. But by 1983, Majors had Tennessee back in the national spotlight with a 9-3 mark and a victory in the Citrus Bowl. After that, Majors led the Vols to three SEC championships and two Sugar Bowl victories, most notably Tennessee’s stunning 35-7 defeat of No. 2 Miami in the Sugar Bowl to end the 1985 season.

    Tennessee went 116-62-8 under Majors, and they appeared in 12 bowl games during his 15-plus years as head coach. He and his staffs produced 15 All-Americans at Tennessee, notably coaching players such as Reggie White, Willie Gault, Anthony Hancock, Chuck Webb, Reggie Cobb, Carl Pickens, and Dale Carter among many others. Majors also had a large number of his assistant coaches go on to be head coaches, not just Fulmer. David Cutcliffe, Jon Gruden, Jimmy Johnson, Jackie Sherrill, and Dom Capers are just some of the many coaches who served under Majors and went on to be head coaches in college or the NFL.

      Vol Nation is in mourning this Wednesday morning.

      Former Tennessee head football coach and College Football Hall of Famer Johnny Majors has died at the age of 85. Jackie Sherrill, a longtime friend of Majors and a coach under Majors at Pittsburgh, confirmed the news on Wednesday according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The cause of death has not been made public at this time.

      Majors was involved with the University of Tennessee for decades. He played for UT from 1953-56 and was named the SEC Player of the Year in both 1955 and 1956. He was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame as a player in 1987.

      As a head coach, Majors got his start at Iowa State in 1968 before taking over at Pittsburgh in 1973. He led the Panthers to an undefeated 12-0 mark in 1976 and won a national title that season with a 27-3 victory over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

      Instead of returning to Pittsburgh the following season, Majors came home.

      The Lynchburg, TN native was named the head coach of the Vols prior to the 1977 season, and after early struggles as he helped rebuild Tennessee’s program, he eventually led UT to great heights. He coached the “Sugar Vols” in 1985 and won three SEC titles while leading Tennessee.

      In his 15-plus seasons as Tennessee’s head coach, the Vols went 116-62-8 and 57-40-3 in conference play. He led Tennessee to two Sugar Bowl victories (1985, 1990) and took the Vols from 4-7 in his first season to winning nine or more games six times in a nine-year span from 1983-1991.

      Tennessee and Majors parted ways in the 1992 season, with Phillip Fulmer taking over as interim head coach for three games in the start of the year and then Tennessee’s 38-23 victory over Boston college in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

      After that, Majors went back to Pittsburgh and served as their head coach for four seasons before retiring in 1996. He was Pittsburgh’s assistant athletics director and chancellor until 2007.

        Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

        Those that are close to Tennessee redshirt senior wide receiver Brandon Johnson wouldn’t have guessed that he would have turned out to be an SEC football player.

        Not only was basketball the sport Johnson loved the most growing up, but his dad was a successful Major League Baseball player. His father, Charles Johnson, played 12 years in the big leagues as a catcher after starring at the University of Miami. The elder Johnson spent seven seasons with the Florida Marlins and was a member of the 1997 Marlins team that won the World Series. Over the course of his career, he was named to two All-Star teams and won four gold glove awards.

        But to the younger Johnson, baseball was boring.

        “You would think I wish I would have played baseball, but I’ve never played,” Johnson said on The Slice Podcast with host Kasey Funderburg that Tennessee Football puts out every Monday. “I never even tried it.”

        “I thought it was boring. Ever since I could remember, I’ve just always thought basketball is just, like, so much fun. That’s the first sport I ever played, and my dad, he never made me play baseball. He just let me do whatever I wanted to do.”

        So instead of a career on the diamond like his father, Johnson played hoops and football growing up. By the time he was a sophomore at American Heritage High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Johnson was receiving serious interest from major colleges on the gridiron. He parlayed that interest into accepting a football scholarship from the University of Tennessee.

        “This has probably surpassed what I thought it would have been in high school,” Johnson said of his experience to this point in his career. “I love Knoxville. It’s definitely a second home. I didn’t think that I’d become so comfortable in the setting I was in.”

        “So once I did, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was just happy. I still am.”

        Johnson’s playing career on Rocky Top has had plenty of twists and turns through four years. He played in nine games as a true freshman in 2016 and then led the team in receiving yards his sophomore season in 2017 with 482 and tied for the team lead in receptions with 37.

        Under the new leadership of Jeremy Pruitt in 2018, Johnson saw his playing time dip. After starting seven games during Butch Jones’ final season at the helm, Johnson started just two games as a junior in year one of Pruitt. He finished the season with 14 catches for 123 yards.

        Heading into his true senior season last fall, Johnson was one of four senior wide receivers on UT’s roster along with Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Tyler Byrd. Playing time was at a premium for Johnson, however, as he sat behind Jennings, Callaway, and Josh Palmer on the depth chart.

        Johnson played in the first four games to begin the 2019 season. He scooped up a blocked punt in Tennessee’s win against Tennessee-Chattanooga and returned it for a touchdown, but he caught just two passes for 31 yards over the course of the first month of the season. Instead of watching his final season of eligibility slither away, Johnson and the coaching staff made the decision to redshirt and preserve his final year in Knoxville.

        “I felt like I’d be better suited to help the team win and move forward if I sat out last year and came back this year,” Johnson said. “It was a business decision. But I felt like it’s what I had to do if I really wanted to help the team.

        “It was a tough decision, but at the same time, once I made my decision, I was at peace with it. Yeah, it wasn’t fun to sit out. I got tired of sitting out. But at the same time, I knew it’s what I had to do. Every day you go to practice, you still get better. Every day you go to practice, you can help other guys get better, no matter what the circumstances are.”

        In preserving his final year of eligibility, Johnson is set to be a key piece to a Tennessee wide receiver room that loses a ton of production from 2019. With Jennings and Callaway graduating, Tee Martin’s group must replace 89 catches, 1,604 yards, and 14 touchdowns in addition to 28 of Tennessee’s 48 completions of 20-plus yards last season.

        Simply put, Jennings and Callaway accounted for 56 percent of the team’s receiving yardage last season and 74 percent of Tennessee’s receiving touchdowns.

        Palmer figures to be the No. 1 wide receiver on this year’s team. Johnson will battle it out with former Georgia transfer Deangelo Gibbs for the No. 2 spot, and possibly the No. 3 slot with sophomore Ramel Keyton, as well as a slew of incoming freshmen. Even if Johnson isn’t one of the top three receivers this season, he’ll still play an important role in a young wide receiver room.

        “It’s something (redshirting) that I had to do, and like I said, once I made my decision, I was at peace with it, because I knew I got another year coming up and another year to help the team the best way I can,” Johnson explained. “I know for a fact I bring a lot of positivity. I try to stay positive no matter what I do.

        “Positivity, encouragement, and you can look to me if you need an example, because I’m not always the one yelling and doing everything out of whack, but I’ll definitely do what I need to do. If you need an example, you can look at me.”

          (Photo via Andrew Ivins/247Sports)

          The No. 1 prospect in the state of West Virginia and one of the top cornerbacks in the 2021 class has Tennessee among his top teams moving forward.

          Isaiah Johnson is a four-star defensive back who plays for Bluefield High School in Bluefield, WV. He tweeted out a graphic showing his top eight schools in his recruitment on Tuesday, and the Vols made the cut along with LSU, Georgia, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Texas, USC, and West Virginia.

          According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Johnson is the No. 75 overall prospect, the No. 6 cornerback, and the top-rated recruit in West Virginia.

          The 6-foot-2, 180-pound athlete holds nearly two dozen scholarship offers, but he’ll be focusing on these eight schools the most in the coming months.

          Johnson suffered a season-ending injury in Bluefield’s second game of the 2019 season. He only appeared in six quarters during his junior campaign, but he’s maintained his spot as one of the top defensive backs in the 2021 class despite that setback.

          Tennessee extended an offer to Johnson back on August 24, 2018. He came to campus to attend a camp on UT’s campus in early June of 2019, and the Vols have been among his top schools for a while. He has a good relationship with defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, and ace recruiter Brian Niedermeyer is also involved with his recruitment with the Vols.

          Not only that, but Johnson has family that lives close to Knoxville. Johnson’s grandfather and wife live only about an hour away from UT’s campus.

          Looking at Johnson’s sophomore tape, his speed immediately catches attention. He plays on both sides of the ball and uses that quickness effectively as both a receiver and a defensive back. Johnson makes good reads on defense and does a great job of following his assignment. His height and physical presence makes him intimidating on defense, and he can take down ball carriers one-on-one pretty well. He has the size to play safety, but he looks comfortable at cornerback too.

          The Vols’ 2021 class currently ranks No. 2 in the country and No. 1 in the SEC. Tennessee has 24 prospects committed to them at this point, and six of those commits project as defensive backs.



          Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

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

          Last week, Vol Nation joined the entire nation in facing history. History often repeats itself, and an invisible malaise of a different kind took center stage over COVID-19.

          Repetition of years of systemic marginalization, oppression, and racism came to the forefront of the American narrative. This particular disease, thousands of years old, prompted University of Tennessee Athletics Leadership to issue a statement saying, in part, “Vol Nation, let’s rise to the challenge to meet a new standard. If you’re going to support our black student-athletes when they compete, please have the courage to support them and their families in their daily pursuit of peace, happiness and equity.”

          This column follows sporting events throughout Volunteer athletic history. Though reflecting on favorite plays and players often remains light and fun, it must be acknowledged that at each juncture in that history, athletes have faced hatred and criticism not for the way they play, but for the color of their skin. Sports, which often act as forums for togetherness in support of favorite teams, also often serve as reflections of inequality and strife. Tennessee football did not integrate until 1968, 14 years after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, and Tennessee basketball did not integrate until 1971. Tennessee baseball integrated in the early 1970s as well when quarterback and shortstop Condredge Holloway represented the Vols as a two-sport athlete of national acclaim (and backlash).

          While players crusaded for wins against Southeastern Conference foes, they also crusaded — and continue to crusade — for equity and success. In order to truly embrace the Volunteer spirit, this crusade must be supported. Though the remainder of this column will continue with content and tenor typical of others in this series, take a moment to consider what happened this week, not just in UT sports history.

          June 6, 1952

          Coming off a year where the baseball team reached the NCAA World Series Championship, the Vols struggled on the road to Omaha in 1952. Despite a strong first inning, Tennessee allowed SEC rival Florida to earn twice the amount of runs in the postseason NCAA District Three match-up on June 6th in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Having already dropped a game to Duke in the double elimination tournament, the Vols left the border state without victories to laud.

          The Florida Gators exploded for a 10-5 win against the Vols. Tennessee demonstrated improvement in the batter’s box. UT had only scored one run against Duke in the prior 7-1 loss, but mayhem on the mound midway through the game led to a loss.

          Lead-off hitter Bill Asbury commenced a quick start for the orange and white. Gator Jim Gardner misjudged Asbury’s flyout to center field, dropping the ball while the Vol stormed to second. Asbury would later hit a line drive to open the second. However, Bert Rechichar made the biggest difference in the box with a three-run homer in the first. The Vol bats got hot early on while pitcher Don Williams kept the Gators hitless and scoreless through two.

          Then, the third spelled trouble.

          Florida put up four runs on three hits, an error, and a walk. Billy Joe Bowman relieved “rangy righthander” Williams in the fourth when the Gators took a 6-5 lead. His first pitch resulted in a ground rule double. Fortune favored Florida, as the Gators jumped out to a 9-5 lead.

          The Gators failed to score again until the ninth inning, but the Vols never got back on the board to keep the game competitive. The foes from Florida took the win and postseason bragging rights. In 2020, both the Gators and the Vols stood poised to make runs toward the top of the SEC before COVID-19 quelled conference play.

          June 2, 2006

          The softball team in orange, white, and Lady Vol blue remains no stranger to postseason play. In 2006, the Lady Vols reached their second consecutive Women’s College World Series. The first task proved a tough one: No. 1 UCLA. The Bruins set their sights on the university’s 100th national title.

          Spoiler alert: they didn’t earn it.

          Tennessee, the top fielding team in the country with a .980 average, defeated the No. 1 team in the first round, eliminating UCLA from what was the team’s eighth consecutive WCWS appearance. With the win, the Lady Vols’ neutral site record improved to 23-0 on the season. But the one-point win did not come easy.

          Behind Monica Abbott’s 11 strikeouts, Tennessee held on to win 4-3 after two errors in a game. The match-up ended at 2:05 a.m. after a true pitcher’s duel. UCLA pitcher Anjelica Selden, like Abbott, performed solidly, pitching a no-hitter until Shannon Doepking tore a single up the middle in the fifth inning. Both pitchers allowed nine hits. In the sixth, Lady Vol Tonya Callahan tied the game at two-all on a single.

          In the top of the seventh, Sarah Fekete set the SEC single-season record for hits with 108. Teammate Lindsay Schultzer held the previous record of 107, which she set the year prior. Another record holder stole the show, however. The SEC career RBI leader, Kristi Durant, hit what would be the game-winning RBI in the same inning. With two RBI in the game, she extended her record to 203, 12 more than the previous record holder, Alabama’s Kelly Kretschman (191).

          Unfortunately, the stunning high for the Lady Vols ceased the next day when Northwestern blanked the typically explosive squad, 2-0. Monica Abbott struck out 15 batters, but her teammates could not get the bats going.

          The 2020 squad opened the season with a 6-3 win over Northwestern. The Lady Vols finished 14-9 when COVID-19 forced the end of the season. They finished the abbreviated year with a 3-2 loss to North Carolina on March 10th. They would have faced Texas A&M on March 13th to open SEC play, aiming for their 17th consecutive postseason run during the program’s 25th anniversary season.

          Tennessee’s defense proved a strong point this year, recording 17 double plays. With a young team of returning players, they will look to capitalize on that momentum cut short heading into 2021, which will hopefully be a better year for everyone on and off fields.