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Let's be clear. Nothing's official. Former McCallie School football star Jay Hardy is in the transfer portal after a freshman season spent at Auburn. He could land anywhere, maybe even the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

But because Hardy reportedly almost chose Tennessee out of high school in the late autumn of 2019, and because one of his coaches at Auburn — Rodney Garner — is now in charge of the defensive line at UT, it would certainly make sense for Hardy to wind up a Volunteer, which would delight Big Orange fans throughout the Tennessee Valley, but especially those here in the Scenic City to no end.

And should that happen, coupled with Monday's news that former Texas linebacker Juwan Mitchell — the Longhorns' leading tackler last season — is transferring to Rocky Top, the Vols' prospects on the field could be considerably brighter than they appeared to be coming out of the Orange-White spring game less than two weeks ago.

Again, as of late Monday afternoon there was no concrete proof that Hardy will wind up a Vol. But much like Mitchell, should he choose to go there, he would be eligible immediately due to recent NCAA legislation giving all transfers instant eligibility for the upcoming season.

Of course, exactly what the NCAA will allow UT to do on a football field next season is still up in the air due to a continuing NCAA investigation into actions by former coach Jeremy Pruitt, who was fired in January amid allegations of serious NCAA violations that the school self-reported.

It is next-to-impossible to believe the school wouldn't be allowed to play a full schedule this coming season. In fact, it's doubtful the NCAA will even rule on the UT mess before next winter at the earliest. The wheels of NCAA are painfully, almost inexcusably slow.

But the addition of Mitchell alone will do much to soften the blow of linebacker Henry To'o To'o's decision to enter the transfer portal — though he is yet to announce where he's transferring — and should make the Vols a more appealing destination for the abundantly talented Hardy.

Especially since new UT head coach Josh Heupel said at the close of the Orange-White game: "We need more depth on the defensive line. We're thin at that position."

Hardy wouldn't single-handedly solve the Vols' depth issues along the defensive front, but he would certainly be a start.

There is a sense that the Big Orange needs help everywhere, that the early wave of transfers that accompanied the NCAA investigation, Pruitt's firing and Heupel's hiring could gut the program for at least two seasons. And they may yet.

But last week brought news that former Michigan quarterback Joe Milton — all six feet, five inches and 243 pounds of him — was transferring to Volsville. Now, a week later, Mitchell — who should be on preseason All-American lists — is also heading to Rocky Top.

Let Hardy and a couple of more follow, let the offense prove as lethal as all those past Heupel squads have been, and now 6-6, perhaps even 7-5 with a whole lot of luck, doesn't seem so far-fetched a record for the 2021 season.

If nothing else, after so many months of the transfer portal taking so much away from the Big Orange, it's nice to see it finally giving back a talented player or two or three.

It's almost enough to make you wonder if To'o To'o isn't beginning to ponder the idea of making Rocky Top his home sweet home to be.

Almost.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com,

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