Imagine bleeding orange one day and crimson the next.
Alabama junior middle linebacker Henry To'o To'o has lived through such an experience, having starred for Tennessee as a freshman and sophomore before entering the NCAA transfer portal in January and revealing Tuscaloosa as his destination in May. To'o To'o made his debut with the Crimson Tide during Saturday afternoon's 44-13 dismantling of Miami in Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, but not before making a point last Thursday evening to keep tabs on his former teammates as they throttled Bowling Green 38-6.
"Those are my brothers, man," To'o To'o said Tuesday of the Volunteers. "I've been to war with those guys, and those relationships that you build aren't just going to fly away. I definitely keep in touch with my Tennessee guys.
"I watched them play last week, and I was truly happy that they got the win."
Alabama, which remained No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, practiced for two hours Tuesday afternoon in full pads in preparation for Saturday's Bryant-Denny Stadium opener (4 p.m. on SEC Network) against Mercer.
To'o To'o racked up seven tackles last weekend, and he was the defensive play-caller for a unit that held the Hurricanes to 266 total yards and 2.8 yards per carry. The Crimson Tide racked up seven tackles for loss while also forcing three turnovers.
Receiver Jameson Williams, who transferred to Alabama from Ohio State, had a memorable first performance as well with four catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.
"I think both of those guys played really well in the game," Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. "Henry played well, and Jameson made some big plays. We didn't do everything perfectly at either one of those positions, but those guys are great competitors, and I'm sure they're anxious to try to improve the things that they can do better."
To'o To'o collected 148 tackles during his two seasons in Knoxville, earning freshman All-America honors in 2019, when he started 12 of 13 games and amassed 72 tackles to rank second among Southeastern Conference freshmen and fourth among FBS freshmen. His 76 stops last season transpired in just 10 games, but the Vols slipped to 3-7 after winning the Gator Bowl the year before.
This past January was certainly interesting for the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder from Sacramento, California, who thought about leaving Tennessee and then apparently decided to stay after former Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt flew out to visit him. Then Pruitt was terminated after a university investigation uncovered NCAA Level I and II violations, and that was it.
"When I was in the portal, it was a crazy time for me and my family," To'o To'o said. "Honestly, it was all through faith and through our prayers as a family, sticking together as a family and trying to find the right home. I'm truly grateful for my decision, and I'm truly grateful to be here. I'm grateful to be part of this family.
"It all worked out perfectly fine."
When asked why Alabama became his choice over Ohio State or anywhere else, To'o To'o said, "Definitely Coach Saban. Who doesn't want to play for Coach Saban?"
Yet To'o To'o also appreciates his time with Pruitt, who was Alabama's defensive coordinator during the 2016-17 seasons before accepting the head-coaching opportunity in Knoxville.
"I give a lot of props to Coach Pruitt," To'o To'o said. "He taught me a lot of the game. He taught me a lot of this system and similar systems and similar defenses, and being able to learn it from him and then come here and apply the teachings that he taught me and to take it on from there with Coach Saban and Coach (Pete) Golding really helped me with my transition here.
"Coach Pruitt helped me a lot."
Alabama is seeking its 99th consecutive win against an unranked opponent, which would add to its FBS record. Sophomore quarterback Bryce Young earned SEC offensive player of the week Tuesday for his 27-of-38 performance that yielded 344 yards and four touchdowns. ... Junior kicker Will Reichard was SEC special teams player of the week after going 5-for-5 on extra-point attempts and 3-for-3 on field-goal tries, including a long of 51. ... The Crimson Tide are 3-0 lifetime against Mercer by the combined score of 96-0.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.