Vol Report: Freshmen Making an Early Impact

Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Heading into week three of the 2019 season, the Vols have zeroed in on their upcoming third-consecutive game at Neyland Stadium when in-state foe Chattanooga comes to town on Saturday.

Kickoff against the Mocs is set for Noon ET and the game will be broadcast on the SEC Network with Taylor Zarzour, Matt Stinchcomb and Alyssa Lang calling the action.

As the Vols look to overcome an 0-2 start, head coach Jeremy Pruitt reinforced his belief in his personnel and the program during his Monday press conference.

“If you can develop the right habits at practice – that’s what we’re trying to do – (develop) the consistencies,” Pruitt said at his press conference on Monday. “We’re going to get better at that every week. Every week, the games going to slow down to them. We’re going to create a little more depth, a little bit more competition. It’s going to make us a better football team.

“We’ve got a strong group of coaches that know how to win. We’ve been there, we’ve done it, we know what it takes.”

Despite the disappointing early-season outcomes, the Vols boasted notable improvement between the season opener against Georgia State and their double-overtime loss to BYU last Saturday. Keyed in on increasing its output trajectory, Pruitt is confident that the results will eventually shift.

“When you look at where our team was at in the first week and how much we improved from Week 1 to Week 2, that’s what we have to do,” Pruitt said. “I want to see how much we improve from this past week to this next week. To me, that’s a goal for this week, if we can do it again. I said that if we do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. I truly believe that.”

Freshmen Making Early Impressions
The 2019 season has already provided opportunity for newcomers to make immediate impacts and freshman linebacker Henry To’o To’o and classmate running back Eric Gray have taken full advantage on their respective sides of the ball.

To’o To’o impressed again in UT’s thriller with the Cougars, recording eight tackles, including one for a loss of two yards and a quarterback hurry. In his historic collegiate debut, the Sacramento, Calif., native became the first true freshman to lead the Vols in tackles (seven) in a season opener since Dwayne Goodrich did so in 1996 against UNLV.

“I just expected myself to be able to contribute to the team,” To’o To’o said. “I wanted to be a part of something special, and I wanted to be able to help these guys around here, my brothers, the best way that I can.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Gray has been equally as impressive. Against BYU, the Memphis native ran for 77 yards on 17 carries, the second most in both categories for the Vols. Gray’s recent performance came on the heels of a noteworthy introduction to the college ranks as his six receptions against Georgia State were the most by a freshman running back since Jalen Hurd had seven catches in 2014 at South Carolina.

Despite the early individual success, the newcomers still look to work hard and contribute as much as possible, crediting the leadership from the upperclassmen on the team for their support.

“I feel like it’s thunder and lightning,” Gray said about his relationship with junior running back Ty Chandler. “Ty’s a great mentor. He’s helped me day-to-day on different things. I feel like we feel more comfortable as a team.

“That’s the message for everyone. Everyone’s saying that we’re going to be better. You can feel it in the atmosphere, that we’re on the verge of being something special.”

Bumphus Comfortable in New Role
The team-first mentality pervades the entire Vol squad and is highlighted by junior LaTrell Bumphus who moved to the opposite side of the ball to fill a need for more depth on the defensive line.

The Savannah, Tenn., native moved to defensive end from the tight end position in the spring and has seen quick success leading the team with two sacks and a fumble recovery through the opening games.

“We’re all trying to step up and become better leaders,” Bumphus said. “I think we’ve still got a whole lot of confidence. We know that it’s a long season and we’re still improving. Getting turnovers is the key to winning games. We are all bought in.”

Player Quotes (Sept. 10)

Senior WR Marquez Callaway

On the confidence level of the offense after the first two games:
“Over the past week we watched film, we went back and watched the corrections. We saw that we did a lot of good, but also that we need to do a lot of improving. The confidence level is going up right now. The coaches are bringing us up, the leaders, the team and the players. Everybody is pushing each other up, not just pointing fingers saying it’s one person’s fault or one side of the ball’s fault, so we’re all taking ownership for that.”

On how to make sure the team doesn’t become frustrated with one another:
“We’re all here for one thing and we’re trying to win, so no matter who gets the ball, no matter how many times one person gets the ball, as long as we’re doing what we can to win or doing what we can to put ourselves in the best situation to win, then I don’t think that is a problem.”

On if the slow start for the offense is surprising after the progress made in camp:
“I think everybody goes out with expectations to play a perfect game, but obviously that never happens, so we go out there and try to get as close to perfect as we can. Like I said, we go back and watch the film and we try to do what we can. We take stuff from fall camp and bring it into the season.”

Freshman RB Eric Gray

On the one-two combination of Ty Chandler and himself in the backfield:
“I feel like it’s thunder and lightning. It feels great to be out there. Ty’s a great mentor. He’s helped me day-to-day on different things. He’s helped me improve on pass protection and different things like that, so I think it’s going well.”

On what his first collegiate carry felt like:
“It felt great. Actually, on the bus to Georgia State, I was thinking about it and I was like, ‘I’m actually about to play college football.’ I grew up watching college football, but I’m actually about to play. To actually go out there and do that felt amazing.”

On how he sees Jim Chaney as a coach:
“Jim, he demands excellence. He demands you execute. He’s a great coach. I feel like, as a freshman, he’s taught me so much since I’ve been here – since January. He’s been here a long time. He’s been in the game around 30 years, so he knows what he’s doing. Trusting him has brought me a long way.”

On how much different his second game compared to the first:
“In my second game, I felt more comfortable under the lights. I felt good. I just felt more comfortable. I feel like we feel more comfortable as a team. You can see the difference between Georgia State and BYU. I feel like we came out and played better.”

On if Coach Pruitt’s message to the team has been to look at the big picture:
“That’s the message for everyone. Everyone’s saying that we’re going to be better. You can feel it in the atmosphere, that we’re on the verge of being something special.”

On if he expected so many freshmen to play early in the season:
“I think we did. I think that’s why us freshmen decided to come to this team – to be able to play early and to be able to be a part of something that’s going to be special.”

Freshman LB Henry To’o To’o

On how he has been able to adapt to college football so quickly:
“I’m still adjusting. College is not easy, but just being able to have leaders like our senior leaders, like Nigel Warrior and Darrell Taylor, having guys like that here helps more than anything.”

On what he expected his role to be when coming to Tennessee:
“I just expected myself to be able to contribute to the team. I wanted to be a part of something special, and I wanted to be able to help these guys around here, my brothers, the best way that I can.”

On what led him to choose Tennessee:
“I saw Coach Pruitt’s vision. I trusted Coach Pruitt, and I still do. I love what he has going on and the things that he tells us.”

On his thoughts on playing in Neyland Stadium and the gameday atmosphere:
“It was more than I thought it would be. I truly love the fans and how dedicated and supportive they are.”

Junior DB Theo Jackson

On how he would describe the atmosphere on the team the last few days:
“I would describe it as, right now, we’re just trying to uplift everyone, and that’s where I give credit to my seniors. They’re keeping everybody up and keeping everybody’s spirits high so we can move on to the next game.”

On what the defense did better against BYU than against Georgia State:
“I would say we played more together, we played as one, and we kind of took it upon ourselves this week to focus more on communication and running to the ball more, so that worked out well for us, but in the end, we still didn’t get the win that we wanted.”

On preparing for an FCS opponent and needing a win:
“It doesn’t really matter who we play, we treat them the same as anyone. We go in and prepare for them, and we never underestimate anyone. We just put our heads down and work and prepare as well as we can.”

On if he is happy with the way he played last week after watching film:
“Overall, I feel like I played a good game. But the coaches made some calls that got me in the right spot. Coach (Pruitt) emphasized this week on running to the ball, so I just did what he told me to do and ran to the ball.”

On what he needed to improve from last year:
“I would say, last year to this year, there’s more confidence. With me, it was probably more of a maturity thing, so I just had to get in the playbook, learn what to do and how to do it better, and it was just getting the learning part of it.”

Junior DL LaTrell Bumphus

On what the defense needs to do to get to the next level:
“I say we still need to keep the intensity, continue to fight for 60 minutes and just keep coming in and working on the little things that we’ve been lacking.”

On where the team’s confident level is at:
“I think we’ve still got a whole lot of confidence. We know that it’s a long season and we’re still improving. We’ve seen improvement from last week to this week.”

On how much forcing turnovers has been emphasized in practice this week:
“It’s been emphasized a lot. Getting turnovers is the key to winning games; being able to score on defense and things like that.”

On if he feels like the players’ only meeting made a difference:
“I think so. I think it kind of brought us together and made us understand each other. We were all bought in.”

On who the leaders of the defensive line are:
“We’re all trying to step up and become better leaders. He’s (Emmit Gooden) still around. He’s motivating us. They’re all helping us.”

 

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