The pinch-hit award of Tennessee's 2021 football season belonged to defensive back Brandon Turnage, who filled in for an injured Theo Jackson against South Carolina.
Turnage racked up 14 tackles and two tackles for loss from the "star" position during the 45-20 victory for the Volunteers, earning Southeastern Conference defensive player of the week. It was his only start of a season that contained 22 tackles overall.
"I've always been taught to be ready whenever my number is called," Turnage said in a recent news conference. "I knew that I needed to play my role. Being that other guys were older and knew more, honestly, than me and had more experience, I just stepped back and continued to be patient."
The Vols were off Monday on the heels of Sunday's second scrimmage.
Last season was Turnage's first at Tennessee, with the 6-foot-1, 186-pound redshirt junior from Oxford, Mississippi, having begun his college career at Alabama. He played in one game against Western Carolina in 2019, redshirting that season, and then competed in three games for Nick Saban's 2020 national champions.
On July 1 of last year, Turnage committed to Tennessee, continuing the two-way street between programs that has included former running back Alvin Kamara, former center Brandon Kennedy and current linebacker Henry To'o To'o, who is about to begin his senior season in Tuscaloosa.
"I still get a lot of good messages from fans from that school," Turnage said. "There is no type of envy at all. They all support my daughter (Aspen) and catch up on her, so I feel like that's a pretty good thing."
When asked why he left the Crimson Tide for the Vols, Turnage said, "To build and help us get to that level."
With Jackson and former cornerback Alontae Taylor now in the NFL, Turnage was hoping to land a starting spot in this year's secondary, but an injury kept him out of spring practice. Vols secondary coach Willie Martinez said that didn't set Turnage back as much as it would have other players.
"With Brandon, it's really not so much the mental part," Martinez said. "Brandon is a really smart player. He knows every position on the back end, and it's good for him to get back on the field and get the reps that he needs to continue to develop his techniques and fundamentals.
"He has great energy, and it's nonstop. He's coaching players when he's on the sideline and when they come off the sideline. He's got a smile on his face. It's good in our room, because leadership is needed in every room and every phase of our program."
Turnage used this spring to go through mental repetitions, much like he did most of last season when he learned mainly from Jackson. He played last year wearing the No. 29 jersey but is now in No. 8.
"I actually didn't pick the No. 8," Turnage said. "I did ask for another number, and the No. 8 was just given to me. I do feel like there is a certain level of confidence and swag that comes with getting a number that you're more comfortable in.
"It can help you build your confidence in some scenarios."
The Vols landed one of their top targets for the 2023 signing cycle Monday, receiving a nonbinding pledge from cornerback Jordan Matthews of Baton Rouge. The 6-foot, 165-pounder is the nation's No. 15 corner and No. 139 prospect overall on the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
Only five Tennessee commitments - quarterback Nico Iamaleava, edge rushers Chandavian Bradley and Caleb Herring, tight end Ethan Davis and athlete Cameron Seldon - are rated higher than Matthews, who had scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Texas and Texas A&M.
Tennessee's 21 commitments are ranked 11th by 247Sports.
On the outside
Tennessee received 180 votes Monday in the Associated Press preseason poll, placing the Vols first among teams not in the top 25. Brigham Young is 25th with 234 votes.
The Vols, who were 28th earlier this month in the USA Today coaches poll, have an opportunity to make an early statement with their Sept. 10 trip to Pittsburgh. The reigning Atlantic Coast Conference champions are 17th in the AP poll.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com.