Vols’ Heupel eager to see a more comfortable Slaughter

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior cornerback Doneiko Slaughter celebrates a fumble recovery during last November's 66-24 drubbing of Missouri inside Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior cornerback Doneiko Slaughter celebrates a fumble recovery during last November's 66-24 drubbing of Missouri inside Neyland Stadium.

Doneiko Slaughter ended his junior season at Tennessee as a cornerback.

He will begin his senior year Saturday against Virginia inside Nashville's Nissan Stadium as a confident cornerback.

The 6-foot, 190-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Roswell has racked up 33 career appearances with the Volunteers, including eight starts. Seven of those eight starts transpired last season, including five at cornerback in the final six games, which included an Orange Bowl performance consisting of five tackles and three pass breakups.

"I'm very comfortable now," Slaughter said this week in a news conference. "I've been working at corner the whole fall camp, getting my technique better and going through all the details of what it takes to be a top player at the cornerback spot.

"I still like being in that box a little more and hitting, but corner has grown on me."

Slaughter had played safety or "star" for much of his Tennessee career before earning his first start at corner in last October's 44-6 thrashing of Kentucky inside Neyland Stadium. He was an instant smash at his new position, collecting an interception against the Wildcats while not allowing a reception.

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said Wednesday that Slaughter continues to improve not only through learning more about cornerback but also from past experiences.

"He's a little bit like a Swiss Army knife, because he's got so many skills," Heupel said. "Early in my tenure here, he had already played multiple spots, and I think that's a strength for him, because he understands the game from the different perspectives on the back end.

"He understands the intricacies of the coverages, and I think having a home at corner since late last year and really being able to refine his fundamentals and technique has allowed him to really continue to grow and blossom as a player."

A stellar season by Slaughter could result in him becoming Tennessee's second cornerback to get drafted in three years. Alontae Taylor was Tennessee's top cornerback in Heupel's debut year of 2021 before being selected by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the 2022 NFL draft.

"I watch Alontae," Slaughter said. "He's out there balling and wearing No. 1 now. Who I really watch, though, is Jalen Ramsey, because he's the best in the league."

Ageless kickers

Tennessee kicker Charles Campbell, a sixth-year senior who began his career at Indiana, is two weeks away from turning 24.

University of Virginia sixth-year senior kicker Matt Ganyard has him beat by a decade.

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound walk-on from Coronado, California, graduated from UVA in 2011 before serving in the United States Marine Corps as a Cobra attack helicopter pilot, and he is now in his second year of the MBA program at UVA's prestigious Darden School.

"For me, the thing I'm most proud of is just the persistence," Ganyard said this month in a school video. "There were a lot of times throughout these 16 years where it felt like there has been another closed door and that this was the dead end. I've still got the email saying, 'We regret to inform you that you didn't make the team.'

"That was my iPad background for many years, and this was under the Al Groh era, so this was a few coaches ago. We found out about four days before camp that the appeal went through, and here we are."

Ganyard, who has been vying with sophomore Will Bettridge for kicking duties, had to introduce himself to the team at the start of camp.

"You could see the shock on their faces when I said I was 34 with two kids," he said.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.