ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee sophomore left tackle Wanya Morris endured hip surgery and two 14-day quarantine stints before this season even started.

There are plenty of folks across this country and across this planet who want to run from 2020 and straight into 2021.

Tennessee sophomore left tackle Wanya Morris isn't one of them.

The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Grayson has experienced a dreadful year when it comes to building on last season's success as a touted freshman who started in 12 of 13 games. Morris underwent hip surgery in January that knocked him out of spring practice, which wound up getting scratched by the outbreak of the coronavirus, and staying healthy for Jeremy Pruitt's Volunteers this season has been a challenge.

There was also the maddening aspect to preseason camp, when Morris endured a pair of 14-day stints in quarantine despite never testing positive for COVID-19, but he never raised the white flag.

"It was definitely frustrating, but you can't really complain about it because every team is going through the same thing now that we went through," Morris said. "You just try to keep in touch as much as you can and keep that bond, because, as an offensive line, you have to play together. It's not about individuals, because if one looks bad, we all look bad."

Tennessee had its scheduled home game with No. 5 Texas A&M this weekend postponed to Dec. 12 due to the coronavirus, with the Vols now looking to halt their four-game skid during this week's trip to No. 23 Auburn. The Tigers had their contest at Mississippi State this past Saturday postponed as well.

Most of the postponements — the Southeastern Conference experienced four last week — are due to contact tracing and not positive tests, which is a familiar predicament for Morris. His two lengthy preseason stints in quarantine resulted in him having to come off the bench for the opening 31-27 win at South Carolina on Sept. 26.

"Going through that was definitely challenging, especially since we didn't get this spring, either," Morris said. "I was not getting the reps with my teammates, but I was staying on Zoom calls with (offensive line) Coach (Will) Friend and Coach Pruitt. I stayed involved and did what I could in quarantine to not get behind."

Morris had his most enjoyable game on Oct. 3, when he earned his first start this season and aided an offense that rushed for 232 yards in a 35-12 pounding of Missouri. He got dinged up the following week at Georgia, however, and a leg injury that occurred during the next game against Kentucky forced him to miss the 48-17 loss to Alabama on Oct. 24.

With Jerome Carvin and Jahmir Johnson having battled injuries as well and with Cade Mays having endured the saga that was his transfer from Georgia, the Vols linemen can't help but be a tight-knit collection by this point.

"We're closer than we were last year," Morris said. "I feel like that the (COVID-19) circumstances we have now brought us together, because we knew we would have to have that bond. Everybody had to be on the same page. For me, I feel like I'm way more mature than I was last year.

"I have more understanding of the game, and I know what I need to get better at. I'm not just out there playing and not trying to mess up. I have more of a 'go get it' mentality."

Injuries and coronavirus guidelines have hindered the former SEC All-Freshman selection, but there is still time to salvage this season. Tennessee has three games remaining against ranked foes in which Morris and the veteran line can shine, but fixing lackluster third quarters is a must if the Vols are going to knock off a formidable foe this year.

"That's something that we all talked about as a group, and it's something that we have to get better at — coming out of halftime and executing," Morris said. "As a team, there's not much else you can say about that. You have to put your head down and work, regroup and get better.

"We're the cornerstone of this offense, and we take the blame. That's what we do. As the offensive line, we're used to carrying things on our shoulders."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT