Tennessee has had more than a dozen football players enter the transfer portal since the start of this year, but one that really stood out was a local player who was a starter and always aspired to play for the Vols: Tight end Austin Pope.
Pope put his name in the transfer portal shortly after the Vols ended their season with a home loss to Texas A&M.
Pope, who missed this past season after undergoing back surgery, is a product of Christian Academy of Knoxville who grew up a Tennessee fan.
So why leave Tennessee?
“I felt like with one year left, especially coming off an injury,’’ Pope told The Sports Animal, “I needed to show everything in my tool box to go to the next level because that’s my goal, that’s my dream. And I didn’t feel like I could do that in this offense.’’
Pope said he had “zero problems’’ with coach Jeremy Pruitt, In fact, Pope said he has “mad respect’’ for Pruitt.
But Pope, who has seven career catches in three years after catching 55 passes his senior year of high school, wants to be more involved with an offense.
“I’d like to catch passes,’’ said the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Pope. “I’ve been predominantly a blocker. I think I have the ability to catch balls and make plays.
“It’s not in my best interest (to be just a blocker). It just doesn’t fit me anymore.
“Last year (2019) 90 percent of the time I was blocking. I know what abilities are as a pass catcher, especially when I’m healthy.
“When it’s third-and-5, I want to make a play instead of being in there like a blocking dummy.’’
Pope said he would like to make a decision within the next two weeks so he could enroll at his new school by late January. He said he has received calls from about 20 schools, including multiple offers from SEC schools.
Pope said he consulted with former Tennessee tight end Eli Wolf, who transferred to Georgia for his senior season. Wolf told Pope he’s not sure he would have had a chance to join the Baltimore Ravens if not for going to Georgia.
“I want to play for money and change my family’s life,’’ Pope said.
Pope said he was a “terrible blocker’’ coming out of high school, but former UT tight ends coach Larry Scott “lit a fire under my butt’’ and toughened him up as a blocker.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to get on the field and if you can’t block, you can’t get on the field,’’ Pope said.
Pope said it was a “tough decision’’ to enter the transfer portal, but he “couldn’t live with myself if I don’t try’’ to get a fresh start – even if it is only for one year.
Pope said he doesn’t regret signing with Tennessee.
“I’m happy I came here, even though I didn’t catch as many balls as I wanted,’’ Pope said. “I did my job and was a good teammate.
“I love this place and I have no bad blood toward Tennessee.
“I just need to add something to my arsenal to get to the next level.’’