HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) — The Tennessee Volunteers ended 2018 with a 5-7 (2-6 in the SEC) record and finished last in the SEC East.
The Vols did have big wins against Kentucky and Auburn, marking their first win against an SEC West team since 2010.
Four players left the team in the offseason due to injuries, transferring or other personal reasons. Offensive lineman Chance Hall, tackle Drew Richmond and tight ends Austin Pope and Eli Wolf will not be returning.
This comes after the first season under new head coach Jeremy Pruitt. A former Hoover High School coach, Pruitt continues to rebuild the Vols following the end of the Butch Jones era.
There is a lot of hope for Tennessee in year two of Pruitt at the helm. In 2018, the Vols only had two players who weighed above 300 pounds, including their offensive line. This season, 15 players reported in at 300 pounds.
Players have also had more time to learn from Pruitt and the staff. The head coach reported that last season, “20 or so players stayed” after the spring semester to train and take extra classes. After this past spring semester, 60 players stayed on campus.
Linebacker Daniel Bituli will lead the Tennessee defense after leading the team in tackles the past two seasons. Impressive, but Bituli isn’t focused on doing it a third time.
“I just want to go out there and help my team in any way,” he said. “I’m not focused on my individual stats, I’m just trying to help my team.”
Pruitt called the Congo-native a “very unique individual” as he can not only play football at a high level, but also speak three languages. Pruitt though only wants him to speak one very important one.
“Our football language,” Pruitt said.
Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano will be the starter when the season begins and is coming off his best season in Knoxville throwing for 12 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions. Something that will catapult Guarantano into this season he said.
“I do think that is true, but I also think there was a lot of learning opportunities along the way,” Guarantano said. “Being able to look back at the tape, being able to see different things you had success with and different things you want to change helps you become a better football player.”
Pruitt spoke highly of the QB, saying the game comes easy to him and he has faith Guarantano will make huge strides in 2019. And he’ll have to as he is currently the only quarterback on the Tennessee roster who has taken snaps in a game.
Guarantano also established himself as one of the more accurate passers in 2018 completing 62% of his passes.
Linebacker Darrell Taylor is one of the best pass rushers in the conference and hopes to build on an impressive junior season where he led the Vols with eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Taylor was expected to be drafted into the NFL but decided to come back for his senior season.
“The first reason is because I wanted to get my degree,” Taylor said. “And I wanted another shot to play football in college and with teammates again and just play for the University of Tennessee and get that one last experience.”
Taylor has reportedly put on 20-25 pounds in the past 18 months, a testament to his work ethic according to Pruitt.
The Volunteers start 2019 against Georgia State August 31.