Waffle House, Neyland crowds lured Campbell to the Vols

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee sixth-year senior left tackle John Campbell Jr. prepares for a play during spring practice. Campbell wore No. 75 in the spring but is now wearing No. 74.
Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee sixth-year senior left tackle John Campbell Jr. prepares for a play during spring practice. Campbell wore No. 75 in the spring but is now wearing No. 74.

Sometimes the selling point of a college destination can be completely unexpected.

Take Tennessee sixth-year senior left tackle John Campbell Jr., who transferred to Knoxville this past January after spending his first five seasons at the University of Miami.

"They had a Waffle House, and that's a place I like," Campbell said Monday in a news conference. "At the 'U,' there wasn't a Waffle House. It was like 40 minutes away.

"I really like it here. There are a lot of food options. Knoxville is a good place to be."

A convenient Waffle House was among several factors in the 6-foot-5, 320-pounder from Orlando deciding that Tennessee would be where he called home for his final college season. Campbell's career with the Hurricanes consisted of 1,352 offensive snaps, 34 games and 18 starts, with 16 of those starts occurring at left tackle.

Campbell started 12 games at left tackle and posted a 97.2% blocking efficiency rate last year after missing the 2021 season due to leg surgery.

"He's a little bit healthier now," Volunteers third-year offensive line coach Glen Elarbee said. "He played last year but had the injury, and I think he's just moving better. He's for sure in shape, and then there is the confidence.

"He knows our offense a little better, and the more you know what you're doing, the faster you're going to play."

The Vols are having to replace right tackle Darnell Wright, the 10th overall pick of the Chicago Bears in April's NFL draft, and left guard Jerome Carvin from last season's Orange Bowl championship team. Elarbee rotated Jeremiah Crawford and Gerald Mincey at left tackle last year but moved that pair to right tackle in the spring.

Fifth-year senior Dayne Davis gives Tennessee four experienced tackles, with Davis having appeared in 26 career games with three starts.

Senior center Cooper Mays and senior right guard Javontez Spraggins are both returning two-year starters, and Elarbee has Ollie Lane, Addison Nichols, Jackson Lampley and Texas transfer Andrej Karic in the mix to fill Carvin's vacancy. Elarbee believes things could start solidifying themselves following Thursday's opening scrimmage, but Campbell appears to have his share of momentum after going through spring.

"John is really sound in the pass game," Lampley said. "He's quick as a cat. He's big, but he's just a really, really athletic player."

Campbell, who prefers the All-Star Special and the Waffle Sandwich as his Waffle House favorites, has been familiar with Heupel since Heupel coached at UCF. He is also a former rival of Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III, with Milton having gone to Olympia High in Orlando and Campbell to Dr. Phillips High.

When asked how Dr. Phillips did against Olympia during their time as competitors, Campbell smiled and said, "I'm undefeated."

Campbell also said he transferred to Tennessee and into the Southeastern Conference to "get more noticed," adding that Neyland Stadium routinely housed more than 100,000 fans last season and that Hurricanes home contests typically aren't accompanied by big crowds. He is finding Knoxville friendlier to him than Miami, and he isn't complaining about Heupel's offense, either.

"This is a system to show what I can really do," Campbell said. "They're putting me in space, and they're giving me the opportunities to make big plays for the team."

Mitchell out at ASU

Former Tennessee linebacker Juwan Mitchell, who transferred from Texas and played for the Vols the past two seasons before getting in the transfer portal again, was dismissed from Arizona State's program this past weekend.

The cause for the dismissal was apparently an incident in Saturday's practice.

"Juwan Mitchell is no longer with the team," Sun Devils first-year coach Kenny Dillingham told reporters Monday. "Culture wins. It is very, very simple. Culture wins. You are either going to practice how we practice, live how we live, be a good person, compete, say 'yes sir' and 'no sir,' open doors for people, be a genuinely good person and do things right, or you are not.

"It is really not hard just to be a good person. The football stuff is great. There are a lot of really good football players. I want good people in this program to build a culture that we can be proud of."

Mitchell played in 10 games for the Vols last season, amassing 43 tackles and an interception.


Tennessee was ranked among the top-10 teams in the USA Today preseason poll released Monday:

1. Georgia

2. Michigan

3. Alabama

4. Ohio State

5. LSU

6. Southern California

7. Penn State

8. Florida State

9. Clemson

10. Tennessee

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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