Jalin Hyatt becomes first Biletnikoff winner for Vols, discusses future

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee junior receiver Jalin Hyatt awaits one of his five touchdown catches during the 52-49 victory over Alabama on Oct. 15.

The emotional pendulum that has accompanied college football's season-ending awards this week swung back in a joyous direction for the Tennessee Volunteers on Thursday night when junior Jalin Hyatt received the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.

Hyatt, the first Biletnikoff winner in Tennessee's storied history, amassed 67 catches for 1,267 yards and 15 touchdowns on the nation's most productive offense. His 15 scoring receptions are tied for the most nationally, and his 18.9 yards per catch topped every other player with at least 60 receptions.

The 6-foot, 180-pounder from Irmo, South Carolina, won the award over Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr. and Iowa State's Xavier Hutchinson.

"I'm just grateful and blessed to be in this position and for being with my family and seeing the team behind me as well," Hyatt said on a Zoom call from Knoxville. "I was nervous. Marvin Harrison is a great receiver, and we all know that.

"As a receiver, this is what you dream of, and it's where you put your goals."

This week began with Tennessee sixth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker being named by the Associated Press as the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year but also being denied one of the four invitations to Saturday night's Heisman Trophy ceremony. ESPN revealed Thursday night that Hooker finished fifth in the Heisman balloting.

Tennessee's Josh Heupel was named Monday as the AP coach of the year in the SEC, with league coaches opting later in the week for Georgia's Kirby Smart.

Hyatt is the fourth SEC receiver in the last five years to win the Biletnikoff, joining Alabama's Jerry Jeudy in 2018, LSU's Ja'Marr Chase in 2019 and Alabama's DeVonta Smith in 2020. He erupted this season after tallying 41 catches for 497 yards and four scores during his first two years.

"This kid is elite in a ton of different areas," Vols receivers coach Kelsey Pope posted Thursday night on Twitter. "His most impressive trait is his ability to ignore all the noise and go back to work."

Hyatt's least productive game of Tennessee's 10-2 season that will continue Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl against Clemson was the opener against Ball State, when he had two catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. His most memorable showing occurred against Alabama on Oct. 15, when he collected six receptions for 207 yards and five touchdowns in the 52-49 upset thriller that ended a 15-year losing streak to the Crimson Tide.

That output was part of Hyatt's four-game stretch against LSU, Alabama, UT Martin and Kentucky that yielded 22 catches for 582 yards and 11 scores.

"My fifth touchdown against Alabama was one of my favorites," Hyatt said. "As far as the play calling, I knew it was coming to me. It was a one-man route, and I knew if we hit it that we would tie the game and have a chance. Hook threw a perfect ball, and I came down with it.

"To see how the crowd reacted probably made that my favorite moment."

Whether Hyatt, who recently agreed to a name, image and likeness deal with World of Hyatt that is helping families of his teammates with Orange Bowl hotel rooms, is through producing magical moments for the Vols could be determined sooner than later.

"There is a lot to put in consideration," he said. "I'm going to have to talk to my family and the coaching staff. We're still 50-50 on some things, but I'll have a decision next week for everybody."

Sizable commitment

Tennessee has delved into the junior-college ranks for its 24th commitment for the 2023 signing cycle, receiving a nonbinding pledge from 6-7, 365-pound offensive lineman Larry Johnson III. Johnson was a freshman this season at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College after playing at Jenkins High in Savannah, Georgia.

Seeing both sides

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was an Alabama receiver under Gene Stallings when he experienced two wildly different bowl experiences following the 1990 and 1991 seasons.

"In 1990, we went out to Arizona and the Fiesta Bowl to play Louisville, and we had no curfew," Swinney said this week at an Orange Bowl news conference. "It was my sophomore year, and Coach Stallings had been in the NFL for like 18 years. I remember the night before the game and some of the things that were happening, and I was like, 'We're going to get killed.'

"They had a quarterback, Browning Nagle, and I think we made him a first-rounder that day. They destroyed us, but that all changed the next year."

Alabama was humbled 34-7 by the Cardinals but rebounded the next year to defeat Colorado 30-25 at the former Blockbuster Bowl in Miami to cap an 11-1 finish that served as a springboard to the Crimson Tide's 1992 national championship team.

"You want to let them have some fun, and they need to enjoy the experience," Swinney said. "I think that's very important. This is college, and you want them to make great memories, but you also have to have some structure for them to help them get ready up to game day."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.