ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker set single-season program records for efficiency and completion percentage last year after transferring from Virginia Tech. He also rushed for 616 yards and five touchdowns.

Mentioning the NCAA transfer portal to Tennessee football fans 15 months ago may have resulted in folks instantly dropping to a fetal position.

The Volunteers were coming off a 3-7 season in 2020 and dealing with a university investigation into alleged violations that transpired under Jeremy Pruitt, which ultimately led to his dismissal as coach. Tennessee became the nation's first program to truly experience a portal exodus, as quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano and J.T. Shrout, running backs Ty Chandler and Eric Gray, receiver Brandon Johnson, offensive tackles Jahmir Johnson and Wanya Morris, linebackers Quavaris Crouch and Henry To'o To'o, and safety Key Lawrence were among those who opted for more stability at destinations such as Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

Even kicker Brent Cimaglia bolted Knoxville for Georgia Tech.

Yet what the portal took away during the transition from Pruitt to Josh Heupel, it also gave back under the new regime, as Tennessee landed 10 players from Power Five programs, with all 10 contributing to varying degrees in a 7-6 season that included a 4-4 Southeastern Conference mark and concluded in the Music City Bowl.

The Vols have been active in the portal this week, receiving commitments from former Ohio State cornerback Andre Turrentine and former Southern California receiver Bru McCoy, but here is a look at how last year's additions fared:

 

HENDON HOOKER

Position: Quarterback

Former school: Virginia Tech

Progress report: Hooker didn't earn the starting job last spring or last summer, but he sure did flourish once he took the reins. Capitalizing on a Joe Milton injury against Pittsburgh in the second game of the season, the 6-foot-4, 218-pounder wound up completing 206 of 303 passes for 2,945 yards with 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions, setting single-season school records for passer efficiency (181.4) and accuracy (68.0%) in the process. He became the first Davey O'Brien Award semifinalist for the Vols since Erik Ainge in 2006 and capped his season with 437 total yards and five aerial touchdowns in the bowl game. Hooker elected to use a sixth year of eligibility and is a huge reason for the notable optimism in Heupel's second season.

 

JAVONTA PAYTON

Position: Receiver

Former school: Mississippi State

Progress report: Having played for Hillsboro High School in Nashville, Payton returned to the Volunteer State for his final year of college eligibility, amassing 18 receptions for 413 yards and a staggering 22.9-yard average. He had 75-yard touchdown catches at both Florida and Kentucky and earlier this week signed a free-agent contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

some text
Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee receiver JaVonta Payton gets loose for a 75-yard touchdown catch last September at Florida. Payton played just one season with the Vols after transferring from Mississippi State and was signed to a free-agent contract this week by the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

CHASE McGRATH

Position: Kicker

Former school: USC

Progress report: McGrath connected on 12 of 16 field-goal attempts for last season's Vols and made all 66 extra-point tries as Tennessee set a single-season record for touchdowns. He said this spring that he has enhanced his depth and would feel comfortable with any attempt in the 55-yard neighborhood.

 

KAMAL HADDEN

Position: Defensive back

Former school: Auburn

Progress report: Hadden had quite the unique 2021, enrolling at Auburn out of Independence (Kansas) Community College and then transferring to Tennessee after going through spring practice with Bryan Harsin's Tigers. He tallied 17 tackles, two tackles for loss, an interception and a forced fumble in his seven games last season, with his most memorable play the forced fumble at the expense of Jameson Williams that helped the Vols hang with Alabama into the early stages of the fourth quarter in Tuscaloosa. Hadden expects to have a larger role in Tennessee's defense this year despite missing spring drills due to injury.

some text
Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee defensive back Kamal Hadden had a memorable performance at Alabama last season that included a forced fumble at the expense of Jameson Williams.

JOE MILTON

Position: Quarterback

Former school: Michigan

Progress report: Milton arrived in Knoxville before the start of summer and managed to win the job late in preseason camp, but he was plagued by overthrows in his starts against Bowling Green and Pitt, when he was 18-of-35 for 189 yards and a touchdown. The most impressive play of his two starts was a 54-yard run against the Panthers. Milton replaced an injured Hooker late against Ole Miss and committed his biggest gaffe, opting for a 13-yard scramble instead of throwing for the end zone as time expired in a 31-26 defeat inside Neyland Stadium. The fact Milton lost his starting job yet remains in Knoxville may be the biggest testament to the culture Heupel has created. "Joe has been an amazing teammate this entire offseason," Vols quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle said earlier this spring. "There were opportunities, and I'm sure a lot of people would have taken him, but he wanted to stay here."

 

BRANDON TURNAGE

Position: Defensive back

Former school: Alabama

Progress report: An injury to safety and recent Tennessee Titans draft selection Theo Jackson opened the door to a starting opportunity for Turnage against South Carolina, and did he ever capitalize. The 6-1, 186-pounder racked up 14 tackles and two tackles for loss in earning the SEC's defensive player of the week honor.

some text
Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee defensive back Brandon Turnage, who began his career at Alabama, racked up 14 tackles and two tackles for loss during last year's 45-20 rout of South Carolina.

DA'JON TERRY

Position: Defensive tackle

Former school: Kansas

Progress report: The former standout at Meridian High in Mississippi returned to his Deep South roots, playing in 12 of 13 games and compiling 19 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Terry could be even busier this year, having closed last season with 51 combined snaps against Vanderbilt and Purdue.

 

CALEB TREMBLAY

Position: Defensive end

Former school: USC

Progress report: Tremblay used his final season of college eligibility to amass 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 13 games. He accomplished those stats as a 25-year-old.

 

WILLIAM MOHAN

Position: Linebacker

Former school: Michigan

Progress report: Mohan followed his position coach, Brian Jean-Mary, from Ann Arbor to Knoxville. The 6-1, 210-pounder played in all 13 games last season and collected nine tackles, with most of those stops occurring on special teams. Mohan had four special-teams tackles in the Bowling Green opener.

 

JUWAN MITCHELL

Position: Linebacker

Former school: Texas

Progress report: The Tennessee transfer portal addition who accomplished the least last season was the one who arrived with the most hype. Mitchell led the 2020 Longhorns with 62 tackles and seemed poised to replicate those numbers after a seven-tackle performance in the second game against Pitt, but he was shut down for the season after the following week's trip to Florida due to a lingering shoulder issue that led to surgery. The optimism surrounding Mitchell has returned, with Jean-Mary saying earlier this spring: "It's always tough when you get a kid out of the portal who is going into a different program and may have different expectations and different rules. That was a struggle early, but he's been great, and he's been a great teammate as far as helping others out."

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

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT