The long and winding road for wide receiver Velus Jones will now, finally, bring him to the SEC. The USC graduate transfer has announced he is moving on to Tennessee.
Jones announced his transfer decision with a statement share don his Twitter account. As a graduate transfer, Jones will be eligible to play his final season of eligibility with the Vols in 2020.
“I want to thank the University of Southern California and Clay Helton for allowing me to get my degree and also for the life changing experiences and connections I will have for life,” Jones said in his statement. “With that being said, I will play my last year of college football at the University of Tennessee.”
Jones appeared in 12 games for the Trojans in 2019, in which he caught six passes for 35 yards. Jones originally committed to Alabama during his recruiting process. He then flipped to USC, then to Oklahoma, and back to USC. Jones previously entered the NCAA transfer portal in 2019 before ultimately deciding to stay put with the Trojans for the 2019 season. Now, he will travel to Tennessee for one more year of college football.
Thursday brought some very welcome news to the Tennessee Vols football program.
That was the simple message on the Tennessee Vols football Twitter account early this afternoon, signaling that Trey Smith will be returning for his senior season in 2020. Smith also confirmed the news on his own Twitter account.
The standout offensive lineman had been weighing a return versus leave UT early for the 2020 NFL Draft.
The announcement is the next leg of what’s been a trying journey the last couple of years for Smith.
In mid-July of 2018, as the lineman dealt with an unspecified health issue, head coach Jeremy Pruitt confirmed that Smith had been medically cleared, albeit on a limited, non-contact basis, to participate in practice when Tennessee kicked off summer camp the following month. It was subsequently revealed that Smith had been dealing with blood clots in his lungs, although he was cleared in late August of 2018 for full contact.
In October of that year, it was announced that the blood clot issue would sideline Smith indefinitely. He ended up missing the remainder of the 2018 season.
Cleared to return in 2019, however, Smith played the entire year and earned first-team All-SEC honors after starting 11 games at left guard. All told, Smith has started all 32 games in which he’s played at UT.
A consensus five-star 2017 signee, Smith started all 12 games for the Volunteers as a true freshman. In the Nov. 4 win over Southern Miss, Smith became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for UT in more than three decades. Smith, who led the Volunteers in knockdowns with 55, started games at four of the five positions along the offensive line, the lone exception being center.
Based on that debut performance, Smith earned consensus Freshman All-American honors and was named second-team All-SEC.
The hits just keep coming for Georgia’s offensive line.
Hot of the heels of several departures for the 2020 NFL Draft, a fourth starter appears ticketed out of town as well. As reported by ESPN on Wednesday, sophomore offensive lineman Cade Mays has entered the NCAA transfer portal.
While that normally would be eyebrow-raising enough, it’s his apparent destination that is sure to light the message boards in the conference on fire as he is reportedly set to move to SEC East rival Tennessee for the coming seasons.
The departure of line coach Sam Pittman to run the show at Arkansas was likely one factor in Mays decision but family ties may have been the bigger pull to Knoxville. Not only was the rising junior a longtime Vols commitment in high school, but his younger brother Cooper Mays signed with the program last month and his dad Kevin Mays was an All-SEC pick in the early 1990’s at the program.
The now former Bulldog was considered to be an NFL prospect himself so the decision to leave Athens is a bit curious as he’ll have to sit out 2020 and play the following season at Tennessee in lieu of an early departure to the pros (if that’s what he wanted). Mays played nearly every spot along the line at UGA among his 11 starts this past season and was in line to become Georgia’s starting left tackle going forward.
That no longer is the case as the next time Mays will see the Bulldogs will come when the team visits Neyland Stadium two years from now.
Thanks to Brandon Kennedy, Tennessee had an additional reason for celebration following a wild Thursday night.
In mid-November, it was reported that Brandon Kennedy was looking into the possibility of returning to Tennessee in 2020 by seeking a sixth season of eligibility. A week later, the starting offensive lineman confirmed that he will pursue a waiver from the NCAA that will allow him to take the field for the Volunteers next season.
Following last night’s wild Gator Bowl win over Indiana, Kennedy confirmed that he has indeed been granted that sixth season of eligibility. The lineman told reporters he was informed of the NCAA’s decision a couple of weeks ago.
And, at least for now, he plans to take advantage of it. Kennedy could declare for the 2020 NFL Draft in April, although all indications are that he’ll be back on Rocky Top next season as a sixth-year senior.
Getting that waiver granted, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be a slam-dunk for Kennedy.
In 2018, Kennedy suffered a torn ACL in the opener that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. The year before, a foot injury limited the lineman to just three appearances, none of which came in the second half of the season.
Kennedy began his collegiate playing career at Alabama as a four-star 2015 signee, but opted to leave the Crimson Tide as a graduate transfer in May of 2018. After some initial pushback from his former school, Kennedy transferred to Tennessee the following month.
Returning from the serious knee injury, Kennedy started all 13 games at center for the Vols this season, the only lineman on the team who has started every game at the same position. Off the field, Kennedy earned his master’s degree in sports psychology and motor behavior from UT last month.
Tennessee (8-5) overcame a 16-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to edge Indiana (8-5) in the Gator Bowl Thursday night in Jacksonville. Two touchdowns within 30 seconds of each other pushed the Vols out in front, 23-22, and Indiana’s long field goal attempt to regain the lead in the final minutes fell no good. Jeremy Pruitt won his first bowl game as head coach of the Vols, while Indiana’s bowl win drought drags on for another year.
After sitting out the first half to serve a suspension, Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings entered the game after halftime. Any hope of Jennings providing a spark for the Vols seemingly faded as Jarrett Guarantano was intercepted by Jamar Johnson on Tennessee’s third play of the second half (after Indiana scored a go-ahead touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter). Johnson returned the interception 63 yards for a touchdown, giving Indiana a 16-6 lead after a missed extra point attempt. Jennings ended the game with two receptions for 27 yards.
Tennessee pulled closer with a field goal on the next possession and came closer with a long touchdown drive with Quavis Crouch running form the one-yard line to bring the Vols within six points. Indiana was not prepared for an onside kick, which was recovered easily by Tennessee, and Eric Gray gave the Vols the 23-22 lead with a 16-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Indiana defense.
Tennessee had opportunities to build a big lead in the first half but managed to score just six points on three red-zone trips. Indiana had a turnover on downs and the Vols settled for two field goals on their other trips, allowing Indiana to hang around at halftime. Indiana dominated the third quarter with a 16-3 advantage in the third quarter to take a 19-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
The win by Tennessee improved the SEC to 7-2 this bowl season, easily the best bowl record among all conferences this bowl season. The SEC is 2-1 against the ACC (with LSU facing Clemson in the national championship game), 3-0 against the Big 12 and 2-1 against the Big Ten. The Big Ten closes out its postseason with a 4-5 record with losing records to the SEC and Pac-12 (1-2) and drawing even with the ACC (1-1).
Indiana will open the 2020 season with a Big Ten opener in Madison. The Hoosiers visit reigning Big Ten West Division champion Wisconsin on Sept. 5 to begin the new season. Indiana will host Western Kentucky in their home opener the following week on Sept. 12.
Tennessee will open its 2020 season at home against Charlotte on Sept. 5. The Vols travel to Oklahoma the following week and close out September with a home game against Florida.