When Jalin Hyatt speaks to the Chattanooga area's top athletes, coaches and their supporters as they gather for the annual Times Free Press Best of Preps banquet, his message will be simple, but it will be the same one he followed to become college football's top receiver last season.
One of the stars of the University of Tennessee's 11-win season in 2022, Hyatt became the program's first winner of the Biletnikoff Award — given to the nation's most outstanding receiver — and he will be the featured speaker at this year's Best of Preps banquet on Tuesday, June 20 at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Tickets for the event can be purchased at bestofprepschatt.com.
"We are thrilled to welcome former Tennessee wide receiver Jalin Hyatt as he prepares to take the next step in his already remarkable career," said Kate Tew, marking and events manager for the Times Free Press. "Fresh off the heels of his electric season with the Vols, Jalin is sure to bring an exciting message of hard work and perseverance to our region's student-athletes."
Hyatt, who was selected by the New York Giants in the third round of April's NFL draft, set himself up for a breakout season when he chose to remain in Knoxville last summer to put in a relentless schedule of extra workouts during the offseason.
His advice for the prep players who will attend the banquet is simple: Outwork your competition.
"I knew what I needed to do to be the best player I could be," Hyatt said. "I didn't go on vacation or back home. I just stayed in Knoxville to focus. It was a long process, but it definitely paid off.
"When the season started, based off my offseason of hard work, my confidence shot through the roof when I stepped on the field. I felt like I was the best receiver on the field, and I was going to prove it to myself, my coaches, brothers on the team and the fans."
Hyatt helped Tennessee to its first 11-win season since 2001.
"When you come to a team like UT, you want to leave a legacy, and I felt like I did that," he said. "Then when you get to the pros, you want to do the same thing."
Prior to his junior season, Hyatt had yet to have more than 275 receiving yards in either of his first two years in Knoxville. But rather than transfer, Hyatt chose to remain in Knoxville, catching more than 200 passes per day during both June and July last year and working out to add weight.
The extra work paid off as the 6-foot, 176-pound speedster produced the most explosive receiving season in program history last fall, setting UT records for receiving yards (1,267) and touchdown catches (15) — which also led the nation — while becoming the Vols' first unanimous All-American since Eric Berry in 2009 and the first receiver to accomplish the feat in program history.
Hyatt led the nation in receptions of 40-plus yards (11), 50-plus yards (seven) and 60-plus yards (five), averaging 18.9 yards per catch and 105.6 yards per game. Of his 108 career catches, 52 went for 10-plus yards and 21 were for 30-plus.
"The Biletnikoff Award is what you want as a receiver," Hyatt said. "It was something I thought about during the offseason. I wanted it. Winning it goes back to hard work, goes back to my summer and those days where I was grinding and putting in work to be the best I can be. It shows what I can do when I'm fully engaged.
"As a receiver group, we wanted to bring back the reputation as Wide Receiver U that Tennessee use to have. I think we helped get that going back in the right direction."
He put up the greatest single-game receiving performance in school history in an epic 52-49 win over Alabama, catching six passes for 207 yards and a program-record five touchdowns to help snap a 15-year losing streak in the series between old Southeastern Conference rivals. His five touchdown receptions were two more than the previous program record, and among them was a 78-yard catch-and-run play in the fourth quarter; the other scores were from 60, 36, 13 and 11 yards.
His performance against Alabama put his name among the nation's top players at his position and also began elevating his draft stock. Hyatt continued to ride the momentum from that game for the remainder of the season — including a stretch of four straight games with multiple touchdown catches — and finished with the most receiving touchdowns and second-most receiving yards in school history, just 31 shy of the record.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com.