Experience and depth key as Vols prepare to open season

Tennessee is set to kickoff third season under John Heupel Saturday at noon against Virginia.
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 10:46 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2023 at 3:06 PM EDT
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Vols prepare to take on Virginia

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - There’s plenty of optimism surrounding the Tennessee football team as it prepares to enter the 2023 season.

The Vols are ranked pre-season Top-10 for the first time since 2016. Coach Josh Heupel’s team is 10th in the Coaches Poll and 12th in the AP rankings.

They’ll also head into Saturday’s showdown with the ACC Virginia Cavaliers with plenty of depth and experience. In fact, 17 Vols will wear the Graduate Patch this season, and that includes Farragut grad Jacob Warren, who’s preparing to enter his final first gamer of the season as a Volunteer.

Another senior excited about the start of the new season is defensive tackle Omari Thomas. Big-O said while he and the guys are prepared to take this season one game at a time, there’s no denying the thought of winning the SEC East is very appealing to them.

Something everyone on the team acknowledges is that Virginia is a formidable opponent to open the season and that the Cavaliers are much better than their 2022 record may have indicated.

While the Vols aren’t taking the Cavs lightly, they are confident thanks to that aforementioned experience and some newfound depth, as in the running back’s room.

Position coach Jerry Mack is excited about the leadership brought by Jabari Small, the strength shown by Jaylen Wright and the speed exhibited by Dylan Sampson. He’s also impressed by the growth of his young players, guys like freshman Cameron Seldon.

The Big Orange opens the 2023 season against the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon at 11 a.m. CT on ABC at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

As part of the Big Orange Kickoff, WVLT will be live in the Music City at the Acme Feed and Seed just across the river from the stadium with the broadcast set for 7:00 p.m. ET.