There were plenty of times last season when Jarrett Guarantano fell out of favor with Tennessee fans.
Guarantano became the first Volunteers quarterback ever to lose to Georgia State, and he became the first to endure the term "going rogue" for the goal-line incident during the 35-13 defeat at Alabama. His inconsistency opened the door for starting opportunities for Brian Maurer and J.T. Shrout, but Guarantano never lost his love for Tennessee.
In truth, hasn't college football witnessed its share of transfer quarterbacks with much tamer tales as far as reasons to switch?
"I'm looking at a big thing on the wall that says 'This is Rocky Top,' and those words and this place means so much to me," Guarantano said Friday afternoon on a Zoom call. "I was thinking about my journey here, and there is no place I would rather be, honestly. Of course there have been ups and downs, and there were some things I had to grow and learn from, but I wouldn't undo any of this.
"There is no place I would rather be. I'm lucky to be a Tennessee Vol, and I wouldn't change that for the world."
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound fifth-year senior from Lodi, New Jersey, rallied Tennessee to a 23-22 topping of Indiana in the Gator Bowl to cap an 8-5 season that started 2-5. The loss at Alabama was the 13th straight in that series, and Florida downed the Vols for a 14th time in 15 seasons. Tennessee's offensive output in Gainesville consisted of just three points, another low Guarantano had to work through.
"There were a lot of things I wasn't really happy about with myself, whether it was my playing time — well, not playing time but my performance and my leadership throughout the season," Guarantano said. "There were a lot of things I learned from and hopefully have progressed from, but I'm not too worried about last season as much. I'm happy that it happened, because it has helped me work harder this offseason.
"I am using that as motivation."
Guarantano's motivation was put to work not long after he returned from the Gator Bowl, as he began to bulk up from the 213 pounds he carried last season. He credited his mother with an assist in the weight gaining process after the coronavirus outbreak in March, which is also the time he realized there wasn't as much studying to do because Jim Chaney was returning as offensive coordinator and Chris Weinke as quarterbacks coach.
Weinke's big offseason challenge for Guarantano was to put on the weight while maintaining or even improving his speed, and Weinke is now seeing a quarterback operating at a higher level.
"He focused on his body to make sure he's big, strong and fast," Weinke said. "You just see him so much faster with his feet and with his decisions. His anticipation, in my opinion, has probably been the brightest spot that I've seen from a year ago.
"Now that he understands the big picture, he can see it and anticipate things much better now because he's more comfortable. He's operating as good as I've seen him since I've been here."
Guarantano is Tennessee's starter but knows from experience how that role can be lost. It hasn't been a dream career to this point, though he has made 25 starts and thrown for 5,062 yards for the Vols, but it could be a dream finish given the obstacles he has encountered since arriving in Knoxville.
"Everything is not going to be easy in life," Guarantano said. "There are some things that have happened throughout my life that kind of felt natural and were easy, so I was just getting by. When I got to college, there were some things I had to learn and overcome. Those things allowed me to work harder and become more mature as a person.
"They've been invaluable lessons, and I'm thankful I've been able to learn them."
Tennessee picked up its 26th commitment for the 2021 signing class Friday, receiving a nonbinding pledge from offensive lineman William Parker of Nashville's Pearl-Cohn High School. Parker is the nation's No. 34 tackle prospect and No. 413 overall recruit in the 247Sports.com composite rankings.