Four Tennessee starters, the team’s top and third-leading tacklers, a standout running back and a key offensive lineman, are entering the NCAA’s transfer portal, indicating they will be playing elsewhere next season.
The decisions by linebackers Henry To’o To’o and Quavaris Crouch, running back Eric Gray and offensive lineman Jahmir Johnson come two days after head coach Jeremy Pruitt was fired amid an investigation into what Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman said were “serious NCAA rules violations.”
To’o To’o, a sophomore, made a team-high 76 tackles, including 10 behind the line of scrimmage. He arrived in Knoxville from California as a four-star recruit having chosen the Vols over Alabama, Utah, Southern California and Washington.
Crouch, a sophomore and former four-star recruit from North Carolina, started every game in 2020 and finished with 57 tackles.
Gray, also a sophomore, was primed to take over next season after finishing sixth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (85.8) and sixth in yards from scrimmage per game (114). In two seasons at Tennessee, he ran for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns on 258 carries, in addition to making 43 receptions for 369 yards and three TDs.
Johnson, a senior, started five games at left tackle this season and could have returned after the NCAA granted players a free year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wanya Morris, a sophomore and former five-star recruit who split time with Johnson, announced earlier this month he was transferring to Oklahoma.
Tennessee was already reeling after the departures of quarterbacks Jarrett Guarantano (Washington State) and J.T. Shrout (Colorado), running back Ty Chandler (North Carolina), wide receiver Brandon Johnson (UCF) and linebacker Deandre Johnson (Miami), who departed after the Vols went 3-7.
The losing record preceded the school releasing the findings of internal investigation into recruiting violations and improper benefits that resulted in Pruitt’s ousting.
Assistant coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer were ousted this week, too, as were four staffers involved with on-campus football recruiting, the director and assistant director of football player personnel and a quality control assistant coach.
Kevin Steele, the former defensive coordinator at Auburn who was hired as an assistant coach on Jan. 12, was named the Volunteers’ interim coach after Pruitt was let go.