There often comes a time in a football player's career when he becomes too big to play his desired position.
Middle school can be such an occasion, as the larger quarterbacks and running backs of the elementary years are moved to beef up the offensive and defensive lines. For Tennessee sophomore Bryson Eason, such a switch transpired last October.
"I never thought I would be playing outside linebacker," the 6-foot-2, 275-pounder out of Memphis Whitehaven said on a recent Zoom call. "I dreamed of playing inside, and I grew up watching guys like Ray Lewis and studying their games. It kind of broke my heart that, because of weight and size, I had to move down, but at the end of the day, I love football.
"I've embraced the situation."
Eason played primarily on special teams last season and recorded just two tackles for the Volunteers. When linebacker J.J. Peterson, the highest-rated recruit in Jeremy Pruitt's inaugural signing class in 2018, took a leave of absence and eventually entered the NCAA transfer portal, Eason replaced him on the travel roster before what was then a top-15 showdown at Georgia.
After the move outside and the collapse that was Tennessee's 3-7 season, Eason held firm in January as Pruitt and linebackers coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer were terminated after a university investigation uncovered rules violations. The top statistical edge-rusher on last season's squad, Deandre Johnson, transferred to Miami and was among the slew of Vols who entered the portal before Josh Heupel was hired as Pruitt's successor.
"I looked at it as I chose Tennessee," Eason said. "I didn't choose the guys who were here. With those guys leaving, I saw nothing but opportunity if I stepped up and worked hard. I took it as an opportunity and started licking my chops about spring ball and whoever the coach was going to be.
"Luckily, it was a guy like Coach Heupel, who brings great energy and focuses on each day. He's done a great job so far, and I respect and love the things that he is doing."
The same apparently can be said about Eason at his new position.
"He's got a really, really quick first step," outside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler said. "He's got great short-area quickness, and he's extremely tough. He's really just learning what it's like to play on the line or to play outside linebacker, so every single day you're seeing big strides from him.
"He's getting more and more confidence, and it's been really fun to watch him grow."
Eason was a four-star prospect coming out of Whitehaven, which reached the 6A state championship game in 2018 and the semifinals in 2019. According to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, the four-star prospect was the nation's No. 16 inside linebacker recruit.
He credits fellow sophomore outside linebacker Tyler Baron with assisting Ekeler in the adjustment and is not afraid to admit that this spring was better for him compared to last summer and fall.
"With the previous staff, for me, it was more of a military staff at practice," Eason said. "It was very strict, and that's nothing to the other guys, but these practices have been more catered to us as a team and as players. It's just a whole different kind of image out there. We compete and have fun, and the vibe and the environment are just completely different from what I experienced last year.
"We know we went 3-7, and that's something that obviously left a bad taste in our mouths. I believe in these coaches and what they have in line for us. As a team, we are moving on from last year. A lot of primary guys from that team are gone, and to be honest, it's a whole different team. With that being said, there is a different mindset, and everybody on this team wants to win."
MSU lands Crouch
Inside linebacker Quavaris Crouch, who ranked third on last season's Vols with 57 tackles, announced Tuesday on Twitter that he would continue his career at Michigan State. The 6-2, 235-pounder from Charlotte was a sophomore last year, so he will head to East Lansing with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Round two set
Tennessee and West Virginia have agreed to meet again in Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium to open the 2028 season.
The Vols and Mountaineers collided for the first time in the 2018 season opener in Charlotte, with West Virginia rolling to a 40-14 triumph that spoiled Pruitt's debut with the Vols. The matchup drew an announced crowd of 66,793.
"This should be a fun showcase game for our program in a city and venue our fans enjoy visiting," Tennessee athletic director Danny White said in a release. "Opening our season against a quality opponent like West Virginia will serve as a valuable experience for our team prior to SEC play."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.