KNOXVILLE -- Jacob Gilliam put in four years of labor as a walk-on offensive lineman to earn the opportunity he got in Tennessee's season opener on Sunday night.
In one play, it all went away.
The fifth-year senior, who was awarded a scholarship in May, will miss the rest of the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in the Volunteers' 38-7 win against Utah State.
"It's very, very unfortunate," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said at his news conference on Tuesday. "I feel for him, I feel for his family. Here's a young man, I love him to death. Walk-on who earned a scholarship -- he earned it. It's very, very unfortunate, but that's football. Next guy in."
Gilliam's injury leaves the door open for Brett Kendrick, the redshirt freshman from Knoxville who finished the game after Gilliam was hurt in the third quarter, touted junior college transfer Dontavius Blair or freshman Coleman Thomas to start against Arkansas State on Saturday (Noon, SEC Network).
"We'll compete for it this week," Jones said.
As for Gilliam, also a Knoxville product, Jones said Tennessee is still investigating the possibility of him earning a medical redshirt for a sixth year of eligibility.
"He's disappointed," the coach said. "He's put a lot of hard work and a lot of effort and a lot of commitment into it. But it'll serve him for years down the road with handling adversity and persevering, and he'll be better from it.
"Obviously you'd expect him to be down when you invest so much in it."
After finishing the game on Sunday, the 6-foot-6, 316-pound Kendrick, who starred at Christian Academy of Knoxville before signing with the Vols in 2013, probably is in line to start on Saturday.
"He's continued to develop, and he's done a very good job it. Now it's for real. He's really taken coaching. He listens to every word [offensive line] Coach [Don] Mahoney says.
"I started to see him play with a little bit more of a mentality of what we expect. We're not there yet, not anywhere where we expect, but I've seen marked improvement in his development. He's very intelligent, and he's very athletic. I'm excited to see how far he can take this."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.