The first eight-loss season in Tennessee football history. The calamitous coaching search that began with John Currie as athletic director and ended with Phillip Fulmer in the role. The 38-30 loss to Georgia State. The three-win season of 2020 that was followed by Jeremy Pruitt's firing amid an NCAA investigation.
Volunteers linebacker Solon Page III has lived through it all.
Last season's seven-win team that humiliated Missouri and South Carolina and won at 18th-ranked Kentucky to earn a trip to the Music City Bowl?
Page went through that as well, and it's why the 6-foot-2, 228-pounder from Atlanta chose to come back for a sixth season in Knoxville. After all, being on an upward trajectory is preferable to the contrary.
"It's year six. It's the last go-around," Page said this week in a news conference. "We've still got a couple guys here who I came in with in my signing class, and all of us staying here and sticking it out and seeing the change in the program through the years — it just feels different.
"Last year, it showed up on tape. We won a lot more games than some people thought we were going to win, and hopefully this coming year we'll do the same."
Page, tight end Princeton Fant, defensive lineman LaTrell Bumphus and defensive back Cheyenne Labruzza are the four members of Tennessee's 2022 roster who signed in the Butch Jones era. They have experienced three losing records and two winning marks in the past five years, with Bumphus producing the quickest success with 33 appearances from 2017-19 before battling injuries the past two seasons.
In sharp contrast to Bumphus was Page, who redshirted in 2017 and had played in just nine career contests before last season. The fifth year was the charm, as Page collected 39 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss a season ago, as well as returning an interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the 56-0 rout of Tennessee Tech.
"I didn't get a whole lot of snaps until last year, and that was my fifth year," he said. "I tell our young guys to stick with it and take what the coaches say to heart. I tell them to watch film by themselves early in the mornings or after the practices."
Tennessee's linebackers were a glaring weakness when the Josh Heupel era began in January 2021, but they're now considered a strength with the senior quartet of Jeremy Banks, Aaron Beasley, Juwan Mitchell and Page, who played in all 13 games last season and made three starts.
"Solon Page has had a really, really good camp," linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said, "and he's shown that he can give us quality minutes."
Page is a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll and appears to be entering his final year with a perfect balance of excitement and appreciation.
"It's been a blessing," he said. "Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing, because it's made me the person that I am today. It's made me a better person and a better man, and it's given me some things that I can take when I leave here for whatever the Lord has for me in my future.
"There are things I can teach my children about when it comes to staying the course."
Left tackle battle
Tennessee offensive line coach Glen Elarbee did not reveal an early leader for the left tackle vacancy after Thursday's fourth preseason practice. Vying for the spot are JJ Crawford, Dayne Davis and Gerald Mincey.
"It was the first day of pads (Wednesday), and they all, including those three, kind of melted a little bit with the heat," Elarbee said. "They came back today flying around and doing really well. To say who is where or what, I couldn't do that, but they're competing really, really well."
Elarbee was asked if he had a timetable for naming the starter opposite right tackle Darnell Wright.
"Typically you hope to have a direction after the first scrimmage, and then you solidify things after the second scrimmage," he said. "Some years you are fortunate if it happens before then, but hopefully by the first scrimmage we'll have an idea."
Odds and ends
A day after announcing his commitment to Tennessee, former Clemson running back Lyn-J Dixon went through his first practice with the Vols, but he still has to go through the proper eligibility channels. ... Elarbee said four-star freshman Addison Nichols has worked at center and guard this week and that "the game has slowed down for him." ... Elarbee on the downside of having four starters and other veterans back up front: "If something is not right, it definitely pisses you off a whole heck of a lot more."