Transfer traffic has changed

Marvin Westwestwords

Perhaps you have noticed the change in transfer traffic. At Tennessee it has switched from rear views to incoming expressions of hope and even happiness.

At the end of the Jeremy Pruitt era and the beginning of Josh Heupel’s time, the wide-open transfer portal was a disaster. Lest you forget, there was a mass exodus of former Volunteers. Really good players, linebacker Henry To’o To’o for example, ran out the gate as if someone had ordered a fire drill.

Henry didn’t run far. He found a warm crimson welcome mat at Alabama.

Linebacker Quavaris Crouch went to Michigan State. Running back Eric Gray and former five-star offensive tackle Wanna Morris fled to Oklahoma.

As a Volunteer for two seasons, Gray ran for 1,311 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 43 passes for 369 yards and three touchdowns. To’o To’o made 140 tackles in two years. Morris was a building block. He made 19 starts.

Enough talent for half a team went somewhere – in a hurry.

Tennessee’s million-dollar internal investigation and a follow-up inspection by the NCAA found more than 200 violations. Coaches and recruiting staffers were fired. Players who were being paid were not identified.

Why did so many players choose to go without giving Heupel a chance? I suppose it could have been lifetime loyalty to Pruitt. Please don’t laugh. This is serious business.

It might have been some had to go in the general house-cleaning. It was mentioned, incidentally, that Brian Niedermeyer, infamous national recruiter of the year, was the primary recruiter of To’o To’o and Crouch. That didn’t prove either was a hired gun.

Through that same transfer portal, Pruitt, not realizing he would soon be gone, acquired used quarterback Hendon Hooker from Virginia Tech.

Heupel, after a quick inspection, felt compelled to obtain another quarterback. Joe Milton III, recent graduate in American culture from the University of Michigan, was available. He was about the size of an NFL tight end. His right arm was a cannon. He had two seasons of eligibility.

Indeed, the same transfer portal that contributed to Heupel’s start-up difficulty turned into a neat two-way street. It now has a wide incoming lane.

This Tennessee team has been strengthened big time by transfers. Veteran middle linebacker Keenan Pili filled a large hole. He is a natural leader, twice a captain at BYU.

Dont’e Thornton, a 6-5 receiver who can really run, may prove to be one of Tennessee’s best. He’ll be a mismatch for most defensive backs.

John Campbell, 6-5 and 320, will be a starting offensive tackle. Gabe Jeudy-Lally should make the secondary better. It needed all the help it could get.

Omar Norman-Lott, 6-3 and 295, is a defensive lineman with major potential. McCallan Castles, 6-6 and 245, is the tight end Tennessee had to have.

Indiana kicker Charles Campbell would have been a Volunteer all along if anybody had extended an invitation. He grew up a Tennessee fan.

Andrej Karic

I thought Andrej Karic, 6-5 and 306, might be a first-team offensive lineman. I now think that may take a while.

I don’t know why he left Texas. He started several games. He had a reputation for toughness. I do know he is an interesting story. So is his dad.

Karic’s parents, Zlatan and Gorjana, are from Bosnia. They were there when war ravaged the country. Zlatan fled to Serbia, then Hungary. He was going to join his sister in Sweden, but, at 23, ended up in Texas as part of a refugee program.

Gorjana made it to the U.S. earlier. They were married in 2001. Zlatan was a mechanic. He delivered pizzas for Domino’s. Eventually, he managed stores for the chain. He wanted more.

In 2007, the Karics opened Balkan Express, a Fort Worth trucking company. A bunch of Eastern Europeans are in that business. Zlatan saw the opportunity. He started with one truck. The company has grown to 120 18-wheelers and many other trucks.

Zlatan is big in another way, a little bigger than Andrej.

As a youth, Andrej was a soccer player. He snowboarded, skied and skated. When he became an offensive lineman, his dad didn’t understand what he was doing, running into people and knocking them down.

Zlatan remembers saying “You suck, you don’t know how to play.”

Andrej remembers saying “Dad, you don’t understand. I am supposed to do that!”

Tennessee is waiting to see what it thought it saw in the transfer portal.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is

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