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Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Fergsuon / Tennessee junior running back Tiyon Evans, right, who has played in just two of the past five games for the Volunteers, announced Friday morning that he was entering the NCAA transfer portal. The Vols (6-5, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) will close ther regular season by hosting Vanderbilt (2-9, 0-7) at 3:45 p.m. Saturday. SEC Network will televise the game.

Tennessee will play Saturday afternoon's regular-season finale against Vanderbilt and its undetermined bowl game without leading rusher Tiyon Evans.

The 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior from Hartsville, South Carolina, announced Friday morning that he is entering the NCAA transfer portal. Evans hasn't played since leaving the Nov. 6 victory at Kentucky during the second quarter after sustaining an ankle injury for the second time this season.

"To the Vol Nation, I thank each and every one of you for the undying support that you give," Evans posted Friday morning on Twitter. "That in itself will last with me forever. I have made some friendships that will last a lifetime, and to all my brothers — love.

"After praying to God and giving myself time to think on what's best for me and my family, I've decided to enter the transfer portal and weigh my options."

Evans, who also thanked first-year coach Josh Heupel in his message, rushed 81 times for 525 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and six touchdowns for the Volunteers, who are looking to improve to 7-5 at the expense of the Commodores in Neyland Stadium. His most memorable effort transpired during the 62-24 triumph at Missouri on Oct. 2, when a 92-yard touchdown run served as one of his three scores during that unexpected rout that helped launch the Vols to their postseason status.

After rushing for 156 yards at Mizzou and adding 119 the following week in a 45-20 trampling of South Carolina, Evans was the centerpiece of a Tennessee rushing attack that climbed to sixth nationally at 249.1 yards per game entering the Oct. 23 game at Alabama. He was held to 30 yards on seven carries against the Crimson Tide, and his lone rush for 9 yards in Lexington would be his last with the Vols.

Evans was spotted in street clothes on the field before the Nov. 13 loss against Georgia but was not seen last Saturday night before the blowout of South Alabama.

Weighing his options could include declaring for the 2022 NFL draft, because Evans is three years removed from high school. He began his college career at Hutchinson (Kansas) Community College, where he rushed for 538 yards and 8.8 per carry in 2019.

Evans did not play last autumn at Hutchinson due to the NJCAA canceling its season after the outbreak of the coronavirus, so NFL scouts could find him appealing due to his lack of wear and tear.

The Vols began this season with both Evans and sophomore Jabari Small posting 100-yard performances in the 38-6 thumping of Bowling Green. Small, a 5-11, 206-pounder from Briarcrest Christian in Memphis, has rushed 99 times for 509 yards (5.1) and six touchdowns this season.

In the past three weeks, Small has rushed 27 times for 177 yards (6.6) and three scores.

Tennessee will move forward from a ground game standpoint with Small, graduate transfer quarterback Hendon Hooker, freshman running back Jaylen Wright and redshirt freshman running back Len'Neth Whitehead. Wright has rushed for 243 yards, 4.6 yards per carry and three touchdowns this season, while Whitehead has rushed for 207 and 6.5 with two scores.

The Vols have averaged 205.4 rushing yards per game this season, which ranks 22nd nationally.

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

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