Tennessee's To'o To'o thrilled to be playing, feels for his Pac-12 friends

Tennessee Athletics photo by Caleb Jones / Tennessee sophomore inside linebacker Henry To'o To'o goes through a practice drill last week on Haslam Field.

When linebacker Henry To'o To'o signed with Tennessee in February 2019, it answered the question of where the top-50 national prospect would play college football.

Nobody knew then the question would eventually become whether he would play football.

To'o To'o hails from California prep powerhouse De La Salle in Concord, which is 30 miles from San Francisco and 22 miles from Oakland. It's right in the heart of Pac-12 Conference country, with Stanford University in Palo Alto an hour away and with the University of California in Berkeley less than a half-hour drive.

The Pac-12 announced earlier this month that it was following the Big Ten's lead and would be canceling all fall semester sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are attempting to play football in the spring.

"A lot of people in the Pac-12 who I know are pretty bummed, to be honest with you," To'o To'o said. "I have a lot of family in the Pac-12, and being able to talk to them, they also wanted a season and they also wanted to play. That wasn't their call to make."

As the Volunteers and the rest of the Southeastern Conference programs progress through their second week of preseason camp, those SEC players from outside the league's 11-state footprint realize how fortunate they have it. Those within the SEC footprint, of course, are beginning to recognize it as well.

Tennessee senior center Brandon Kennedy is from Wetumpka, Alabama, which is roughly 50 miles from Auburn and roughly 100 miles from Tuscaloosa.

"My first reaction was feeling kind of sad for those guys in those conferences," Kennedy said. "I know that the commissioner and the people in our conference will make the best decision for us possible. We're excited to play, and we want to play."

The year before To'o To'o signed with the Vols, a pair of prospects from Concord - De La Salle four-star defensive tackle Tuli Letuligasenoa (Washington) and Clayton Valley three-star offensive tackle Brandon Mello (California) - signed with Pac-12 programs. In 2017, Clayton Valley three-star offensive guard Jalen McKenzie signed with Southern California.

To'o To'o had Alabama among his final four selections before choosing the Vols, and he also considered Utah and Washington. Had he decided on the Utes or Huskies, who knows what would be going through his mind right now?

"What they're doing now is probably working their butts off," To'o To'o said, "so when their season does come and it's time for them to play, they're going to excel."


Tennessee was voted to the 25th and final spot in The Associated Press college football preseason poll released Monday. The Volunteers are among seven ranked Southeastern Conference programs, a list containing No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 6 LSU, No. 8 Florida, No. 11 Auburn and No. 13 Texas A&M. Clemson and Ohio State are the top two teams, though the Buckeyes will not be playing this fall due to the Big Ten postponing its season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.