Big game Saturday for several Volunteers

Marvin Westwestwords

Big game Saturday in Nashville – first game for Alec Abeln as coach of Tennessee tight ends. He is a beneficiary of Josh Heupel’s in-house development and promotion plan.

Abeln (pronounced ABE-lin) grew up in the Heupel family of coaches. He played fullback and tight end as a senior at Missouri when Heupel was offensive coordinator. Before that, he was a Tiger offensive lineman under coach Glen Elarbee, Heupel’s left or right arm.

Abeln was perceived as smarter than the average tree trunk. He has Missouri degrees in finance and English. He became a graduate assistant coach. He rejoined Heupel and Elarbee at Central Florida in 2019. He was a Tennessee offensive analyst in 2021 and 2022. He became an interim assistant coach when Alex Golesh left the staff to become head coach at South Florida.

Alec helped prepare for the Orange Bowl and immediately impacted recruiting.

247Sports put Abeln on the “30-under-30” honors list of future stars in college coaching and administration. Alec is 28.

Heupel says tight ends have flourished under Abeln’s direction.

“Coach Abe has done a phenomenal job.”

Big game Saturday – first game for Joe Milton III as quarterback of “his” Tennessee team.

Joe was on the job against Vanderbilt and Clemson at the end of last season but that was Hendon Hooker’s team. It was Hook who gunned down Alabama. Milton was the replacement when Hooker was hurt.

Now he is the main man.

Pressure? There is some. How he does with have disproportionate influence on how Tennessee does. If the Vols become big winners under Milton’s leadership, he will become rich and more famous. If the Vols don’t win when it matters most, Nico will be the quarterback.

Big game Saturday – first game for freshmen Arion Carter, Cameron Seldon, Ethan Davis, Daevin Hobbs and Caleb Herring. Those guys are big-time futures but they probably can help now.

Carter is a linebacker, prominent among the best prospects in the country. Alabama really wanted him. It had the audacity to go into Smyrna, genuine Tennessee territory, in hot pursuit of the prize.

The Vols turned Arion into the second major victory over the Tide last season. The football game was first.

Carter has size (6-1, 227), speed and a quick mind. Rating services say he is an immense talent.

Seldon is a former receiver learning to play running back. He is No. 4 on that list but athletic enough to play. Maybe he’ll get a chance to return a kick.

Cameron is from Heathsville, Virginia. I had to look it up, northern neck. This is the lowest classification in the state. The step-up in competition was going to be enormous. Seldon didn’t notice. An analyst tells me he has an NFL future.

Davis is the tight end behind two senior citizens. He is not an experienced blocker but he has good hands and projects as a plus in the passing game. He’s is big enough to notice, 6-5 and 232.

Hobbs, 6-4 and 280, is a defensive lineman with unusual versatility. That means he can play inside or outside.

“We’re excited about Daevin. We really are,” said Tim Banks, defensive coordinator. “Yep, he is a freshman, but he’s extremely talented. He’s light on his feet for a big guy. Is there a learning curve? No doubt about it … but we feel he has an extremely high ceiling and we’re super-excited to watch him perform this season.”

Hobbs was the No. 29 overall prep prospect in the country.

Herring is a star-to-be as an edge rusher, a graceful athlete who runs fast but seems to glide. He is also a very interesting young man.

“He will not allow negativity to be spoken,” said Caleb’s mother, Tiffany Herring. “He will sternly snap you back into positivity really quickly.

“He is filled with faith. He believes that with God’s guidance, he can conquer anything. He is also humble. Through all the football noise, he has managed to walk humbly.”

Caleb’s older brother, Elijah, is a Vol, a promising linebacker. They are from Murfreesboro.

Big game Saturday – first game for Jackson Ross. He is the Australian punter who says he is, in fact, an all-around athlete, maybe “phenomenal,” according to special teams coordinator Mike Ekeler.

Be on the lookout for a fake punt and pass. Ross claims to have the third-strongest arm on the team behind only QB1 and QB2.

The punter was asked how his arm compares with Heupel’s, an all-American quarterback during his playing days at Oklahoma, runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.

“I think I’m better than Coach Heupel at his age now. I’m still in my prime.”

Ross added a devilish smirk.

For his part, Heupel smiled warmly and countered with a “punch” line.

“Well, now we know that Jackson will lie. He may be fourth, but he isn’t third.”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *