Graduate transfers bring winning experience to Vols’ rebuild
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has added players from some of the nation’s most successful programs in an attempt to jump-start the Volunteers‘ return to Southeastern Conference contention.
The Vols’ roster includes graduate transfers from Alabama (offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy ), Michigan State (running back Madre London ) and Stanford (quarterback Keller Chryst ). Those three teams posted a combined 32-9 record last season, while Tennessee went 4-8 and set a school record for losses .
Tennessee’s graduate transfers weren’t put off by going from a winning team to a struggling program — it gives them better opportunities for playing time in the very visible SEC.
They also believe new Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt has a chance to turn things around quickly.
“It’s a good vibe around here in Tennessee,” London said. “Who wouldn’t want to play at Tennessee?”
How much each of these three newcomers will play remains uncertain.
Chryst is part of a quarterback battle that also includes incumbent starter Jarrett Guarantano, sophomore Will McBride and freshman JT Shrout. Guarantano and Chryst are considered the main contenders.
London is the most experienced of several running backs competing for carries as Tennessee looks to replace Los Angeles Rams sixth-round draft pick John Kelly. Pruitt hasn’t indicated who has the edge in that competition.
Kennedy is the most likely starter of the graduate transfers, as he has emerged as Tennessee’s likely first-team center. He appeared in three games as a backup center for Alabama last year during the Crimson Tide’s drive to a national championship .
“I’m just trying to earn my teammates’ respect, and I just want to push them,” Kennedy said. “I’m coming from a championship team, so I want to bring that leadership there.”
As someone who played at Alabama when Pruitt was the Tide’s defensive coordinator , Kennedy also has given his new teammates an idea of what to expect from this staff.
“A guy like him, I think he’s quickly earned the respect of his teammates by the way he practices, by the way he goes about his business,” Pruitt said. “I think everybody in our program is excited that he’s here.”
While Kennedy has two seasons of eligibility remaining, Chryst and London are entering their final seasons.
Chryst posted an 11-2 career record as Stanford’s starting quarterback but lost his job to K.J. Costello last season . He completed 54.2 percent of his passes last year for 962 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Pruitt hasn’t said which way he’s leaning in the quarterback competition. Neither Chryst nor any of the other quarterbacks has been made available to the media.
“Every day when you watch practice, all four guys do some really good things,” Pruitt said. “Again, it’s about being consistent and (not) making the critical errors.”
London rushed for 924 yards in his three-year career at Michigan State, where he was stuck behind LJ Scott on the depth chart.
“Tennessee is Tennessee – great fan base, great school,” London said. “We didn’t have much of a good year in (the) previous years, but where we’re headed right now, it’s good.”
London knows how quickly a team can bounce back from a surprisingly poor season.
Michigan State was 12th in the 2016 preseason poll but finished 3-9 just one year after reaching the College Football Playoff . The Spartans improved to 10-3 last season .
He believes that Michigan State experience can assist him as Tennessee tries to make a similar rebound.
“I kind of know what we have to do,” London said. “Work hard and just through these dog days in camp and stuff like that, when it’s hot, we’ve got to stick to the task and have people communicating and don’t have any days off.”