KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT.) -- The Tennessee football team began bowl game preparation on Friday on the indoor fields at the Anderson Training Center.
Inclement weather kept the Vols inside, but the team was still chomping at the bit to put the pads on following a nearly two-week layoff for finals. Tennessee will take a five-game win streak into the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, where they will face an Indiana Hoosiers squad, coming off an 8-4 campaign, on Jan. 2 at 7 p.m. at the Jacksonville Jaguars' TIAA Bank Field.
"Today was our first day out at practice, so kind of back to the basics, the fundamentals," Pruitt said. "It's a great opportunity for everybody to kind of go back and start from ground zero, and that's something that we started with today. We'll continue to do that over the course of the next three or four days before we start working on Indiana."
Similar to fall camp, the Vols will work a five-day install that focuses on fundamentals before beginning to work on the Gator Bowl game plan.
"We won't get started working on our opponent until the sixth practice, the first five days we've really got to focus on us," Pruitt said.
The Vols have proven to do a great job of focusing not only on football, but also academics under Pruitt. An impressive 12 Vols graduated on Thursday or Friday, including center Brandon Kennedy and long-snapper Riley Lovingood, who received their master's degrees in sport psychology and motor behavior and communication studies, respectively.
Additional graduates included senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway, redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings, redshirt senior Darrell Taylor and redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (who walked at graduation this summer).
"Today is a really, really exciting day for a lot of guys in our program," Pruitt said. "We had 12 guys that received degrees today…I'm proud of them. It's the most important thing you'll ever do when you go to college. You are a student first, and these guys do a fantastic job doing that. A lot of credit goes to them. Most of the credit goes to them, but I also would like to thank (Senior Associate Athletics Director / Assistant Provost) Joe Scogin in the Thornton Center. He and his staff have done a fantastic job in the short period of time that I've been here and it's a great day for these kids and their families."
Recruiting Staff the Backbone as Early Signing Day Nears
The Tennessee football office stays busy this time of year with bowl preparation, but also preparing for the Early Signing Day on Dec. 18. With the coaches on the road recruiting the last two weeks, Tennessee's on-campus recruiting staff, led by director of on-campus recruiting Bethany Gunn, has worked tirelessly to make sure official visits for recruits and their families go smoothly.
"Bethany does a fantastic job," Pruitt said. "She handles all of our on-campus recruiting. She and (assistant director of on-campus recruiting) Rachel Bell do a great job organizing, have great ideas that are fresh and always new. They do a great job communicating and we are very blessed to have everybody in our recruiting department, but especially those two. There are others and if I start talking about everybody that touches our recruits, there is more to it than just our coaching staff. Our recruiting staff, everybody in our program is involved when our recruits come on campus."
Kennedy Prognosis for Bowl Game Undecided
Pruitt said Kennedy, the Vols' starting center, had a knee procedure following the Vanderbilt game that will likely keep him from practicing for the next 10 days – after which, he will be evaluated to see if he will be available to practice heading into the final game of the season.
"We'll look at him and see if (the doctor) thinks he's ready to play or ready to practice, we'll see where he's at," Pruitt said. "If he's not, he won't play, so it'll be a couple of weeks before we know anything."
Vols Sending Five to Post-Season All-Star Game So Far
Tennessee has already had five seniors accept invitations to post-season all-star games led by Taylor and Jennings heading to the Reese's Senior Bowl on Jan. 25, 2020, in Mobile, Ala.
Callaway and senior linebacker Daniel Bituli are slated to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl on Jan. 18 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Additionally, senior tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson has accepted an invitation to play in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 18 in St. Petersburg, Fla.