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UT Football: Vols weekend practice
By Jeaneane Payne

ut footballl practice 2020
Image credit Tennessee Athletic Communications


With fall semester classes underway and two preseason practices in the books, Tennessee football standouts senior center Brandon Kennedy, sophomore running back Eric Gray and sophomore linebacker Henry To'o To'o met with members of the media on Thursday afternoon.

The Volunteers' first two workouts have been in helmets and shorts, and they are scheduled to practice in shells on Friday and Saturday to close the first week of the preseason. Classes began on the UT campus Wednesday.

Kennedy helps anchor one of the elite offensive line units in the nation that paved the way for a spectacular freshman year for Gray. Gray rushed for 539 yards and five touchdowns, including 366 yards in the final two contests of the year en route to TaxSlayer Gator Bowl MVP honors.

In 2020, Gray will be under the tutelage of former Vol standout Jay Graham, who returns to Rocky Top as running backs coach.

"Coach Graham is an unbelievably great guy," Gray said. "You can see the experience that he has coaching running backs. He's taught me so much in just the short time that he's been here, being able to read a front, read a defense, safety rotation and different things like that which I never really thought about."

ut coach jeremy pruitt
UT Football head coach Jeremy Pruitt; Image credit Tennessee Athletic Communications


To'o To'o is coming off a freshman All-America campaign that featured 72 tackles and 12 starts. He praised the program's sports medicine staff led by Jason McVeigh, Jeronimo Boche and Dr. Chris Klenck during the squad's transition back to football.

"It's a blessing to be able to have such a great medical staff that supports us, that wants the best for us, that keeps us updated every single day on what's going on and how this virus can spread and how we can prevent it from reaching our team," To'o To'o said. "We feel really fortunate to go out there and play some ball."

Henry To'o To'o, So., LB, was out west in California for three months during quarantine and was able to come back to Knoxville in June.

"These are crazy times, and these are probably not times we want to be in, but for me it was a good thing because I was able to be around my family a lot more. Being so far away from my family, I was able to spend some time with them, watch my little brothers grow up – I worked them out and I worked my sisters out a lot more – so I kind of grew a relationship with my family that I'm truly thankful for during this time of quarantine. Being out there and then coming back to Knoxville and being able to see my team after about three months, I missed them, so being able to see the boys and work out with the boys again, I was happy. I was juiced."

When asked how the team feels about being able to practice and hopefully have a season, To'o To'o said "It's huge. It's a blessing to be able to have such a great medical staff that supports us, that wants the best for us, that keeps us updated every single day on what's going on and how this virus can spread and how we can prevent it from reaching our team. We feel really fortunate to go out there and play some ball. It's not just us, I know the entire world misses football, so we just got to take advantage of it. We got to do the right things. We got to be responsible. Coach Pruitt tells us all the time, act like pros now, so we got to do the right things, just be responsible and do the things so that we can have a season."

Concerning things that help the players feel safe in and around the facility, To'o To'o commented "For a lot of players, and I can count myself in this, if we were to be able to go home, who knows what we would be doing. We wouldn't be on a time schedule, we wouldn't be responsible to go to things and be held accountable to be able to do things on our own, so we would probably be out doing things, traveling, probably doing something with our family that we shouldn't be doing here. So, being able to be here, having the medical staff and being able to have practice, knowing that your teammates are counting on you to do the right thing day-in day-out. A lot of people would go home and not have a safe environment to be in. You guys have seen that all throughout Twitter and social media that people want to be here. They want to be here, and it feels like a safe environment and I can speak for myself that I feel safe here. I feel that the medical staff has done a tremendous job to be able to ensure my safety and I trust them with all that I've got."

ut football player
Image credit Tennessee Athletic Communications

To'o To'o was also asked how normal this week has felt and how stressful and different the last few weeks and months have been. He replied "The past three months have just been all over the place; a lot of uncertainty. So, to be able to come back this week and to be able to play ball, it gives us a sense of normalcy. We're out there ballin' like we always do on a daily basis. We're out there playing with each other, so it feels good. It's a blessing to be able to be out there. I can't really put it into words how it feels to be out there and play some ball. You just got to feel it and if you were in our shoes you would understand."

As far as where he feels like he and the team are mentally and physically from a football standpoint right now, To'o To'o said "Mentally wise, we did a great job as a team, as a defensive and offensive unit to be able to hold Zoom meetings while we were all in quarantine. So, we were on Zoom getting the same film work in, holding each other accountable, making sure everybody's camera was on, making sure that everybody was answering questions. We did a tremendous job. So, mentally wise, I feel like we all did a great job. We came in and got on Day-1 installing and we rode from there.

"Physically wise, I feel like I did a good job being able to come back physically (in shape) and I think the team did a good job too. They came back stronger. We came back working out with A.J. (Artis), and we did a really good job as a team being conditioned and being physically strong."

"We have a lot of depth inside the linebacker room, To'o To'o stated. We have guys like Jeremy Banks, Bryson Eason, Martavius French, Aaron Beasley, Solon Page – guys like that to be able to incorporate into the game. We all have our different skillsets. We all have our unique types of plays that we can do, and we all know our strengths. Just to be able to have guys like that in the room makes us stronger as a unit. We know that whoever is in the game, whoever is out there is going to do what they need to do."

When asked about Jeremy Banks' return to the team, To'o To's said "Jeremy Banks is my guy, that's my brother right there. We spend a lot of time together and he has grown and we're here to support him. Everything he does, we're here to support him and help him grow. Jeremy has done a great job and he is a changed man. On the field he is helping us tremendously. It is a true blessing to have him out there with us."

Sources: UT Athletics, UT Communications

Published August 21, 2020

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