Tennessee third-year football coach Jeremy Pruitt provided good news on the health front Tuesday and encouraging news on the ongoing quest for racial equality after the senseless death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Appearing on ESPN Radio's "Golic and Wingo" national morning show, Pruitt touched on several topics on the heels of most Volunteers players having returned to Knoxville. Monday marked the first day of the Southeastern Conference allowing voluntary workouts as the league continues to take steps toward staging a 2020 season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We brought in 72 guys last Wednesday and did the COVID test and the antibody test," Pruitt said. "We brought in 19 other guys on Saturday, and over the next 10 to 14 days there will probably be 10 to 20 more guys come in. We've not had any positives within our student-athletes.
"We did have one graduate assistant who did test positive, and he is being quarantined for 14 days."
The coronavirus outbreak dominated national headlines for more than two months, but that has been surpassed the past two weeks by the coverage of countless protests across the country in the aftermath of Floyd's death. The funeral for the 46-year-old Floyd was held Tuesday in Houston.
Pruitt told ESPN that two team meetings have been assembled to discuss Floyd's death and the protests that continue to follow. The first meeting occurred via Zoom, with the second gathering this past Thursday night in a much more intimate, revealing and emotionally charged setting.
"It was a very powerful meeting for the players on our team," Pruitt said, "and there were a lot of angry young men in there and a lot of guys who had a lot of built-up rage and frustration. We felt like it was the time and place to give our guys a floor to express how they were feeling and to share with the other guys on the team, and I felt like it was a great opportunity for those guys and for us moving forward as a program.
"A lot of people can put things out on social media and a lot of people can say things, but it's how we act upon them."
Pruitt said the Vols plan to act by creating a "cultural community" that will be headed by Tee Martin, the quarterback who led Tennessee to a 13-0 record and the 1998 national championship. Martin is in his second year as Tennessee's assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and receivers coach after spending the previous seven seasons at Southern California.
Tennessee is coming off an 8-5 season in which the Vols won their final six games, capped by a 23-22 topping of Indiana in the Gator Bowl. There is significant momentum with the Vols returning eight starters on each side of the ball, but Pruitt knows the recent events nationally will mean this season and future seasons will be unlike those that transpired before.
"Everybody on our team has a voice," Pruitt said. "When we were growing up, you did what the teacher said and did what the coach said, and that was it. There were probably times, whether it was on the field or off the field, when you were sitting there saying, 'I wonder why we're doing it this way?' We have a culture in our program to where we want to ask the 'Why?'
"We want our players to know what to do and how to do it and why it's important to do it that way on and off the field. In our program, there is a lot of communicating that goes on, and it's been very positive, and it will continue to be that way. We have a lot of really good leaders in our program."