Like anyone else in college football, the NCAA transfer portal has been a plus and a minus for Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel and the Vols. Particularly at quarterback — among other areas — Tennessee has seen Jarrett Guarantano (Washington State), J.T. Shrout (Colorado) and Kasim Hill (Rhode Island) leave but gotten Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker and Michigan’s Joe Milton. Running backs Eric Gray (Oklahoma) and Ty Chandler (North Carolina) departed — as did linebackers Henry To’o To’o (Alabama), Quavaris Crouch (Michigan State) and Deandre Johnson (Miami) — while Mississippi State wide receiver JaVonta Payton, Kansas defensive tackle DaJon Terry and Texas linebacker Juwan Mitchell arrived. Heupel was honest about Tennessee’s transfer-portal offseason and overall approach in Wednesday’s interview with OutKick 360.

“The transfer waiver is a double-edged sword, right?” Heupel said. “At the end of the day, I know that I, our staff, and (athletic director) Danny (White) are proponents of the student-athlete experience and trying to make sure that they have the tools necessary to have a great experience. When I got here in late January, with all the turmoil and uncertainty that existed around this program, I wanted to give our players inside the program an opportunity to see what Tennessee football was going to be moving forward. As a coach, in my first meeting with the players, I said, ‘There’s probably going to be a lot of words spoken tonight. You’ve probably heard these words at some point during the course of your career, but you’ll soon learn that my actions are going to be carried out that way.’

“I think that’s what our players have experienced here. You’ve got great energy and momentum inside of our program. Connection is completely different. That was the second thing that came out of our players’ mouths when I had a team meeting. It was accountability first, but that connection piece had to be real. That’s who I am. That’s who our staff is, the guys I’ve hired. You’ve seen us live that out, probably through social media at times here.

“As we move forward, there comes a point in time where you’ve got to decide whether this is something you want to be a part of or not. It’s always about the guys that are inside of your program. On the flip side of that coin, as we’ve gotten through spring ball … we’ve been able to add some guys to our roster that have the ability to help us immediately. We think, when we get to next fall, some guys will have the opportunity to develop within our program as well.”

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As Heupel retools the Vols, a tall task awaits in 2021. After opening with home games Sept. 2 (Bowling Green), 11 (Pittsburgh) and 18 (Tennessee Tech), the SEC gauntlet begins Sept. 25 at Florida.

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