Veteran receivers leading the way for Vols

Published 12:16 pm Thursday, August 10, 2023

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With Practice No. 7 in the books and Tennessee football’s first scrimmage of the fall set for Thursday morning, the Big Orange wide receivers are generating plenty of buzz and excitement in preseason training camp.

After the departures of Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman to the NFL, current veterans Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton have stood out to second-year wide receivers coach Kelsey Pope as leaders of the room. The senior duo was productive last fall, combining for 83 catches, 1,229 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. McCoy was key in Tennessee’s final drive against Alabama with a 27-yard reception to set up the game-winning field goal, while Keyton’s 43-yard diving grab against Florida late in the first half will be remembered as one of most spectacular catches in program history.

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In his Wednesday post-practice media session, Pope discussed McCoy’s natural transition into a leadership role over the course of the offseason. The California native enters his second year at Tennessee this fall and has received preseason All-SEC recognition from multiple media outlets.

“The special thing about Bru is he’s always carried himself that way, right?” Pope said. “When you had Cedric (Tillman), Jalin (Hyatt) and those guys in that room, Bru still carried himself that way … The guys in the room have always respected him. When guys leave, and they go to the next level, it’s an easy transition for a kid like that.

“He’s a great leader. He’s truly an alpha. He is going to come to work every single day, and when he’s not going, he’s the biggest cheerleader on the sideline. He’s everything you want in that group, but him and some of those older guys that are leading, they do a great job of helping our young guys come along and learn how we do things.”

Entering his fifth year with the program, Keyton has intentionally worked to develop his leadership skills over the past six months with a team-first mindset. Since head coach Josh Heupel’s arrival in 2021, the Vols’ receiver room has built its reputation on work ethic, and Keyton is doing his part to maintain that standard.

“At some point guys start to make it about the group,” Pope said. “You see Ramel, and he’s naturally a quiet kid, but you see him going to coach other guys on the side, even when he’s tired. He just came off the field, but he wants to go coach other guys when they come off to the sideline. He’s willing to stay after with the younger guys and help them get transitioned and things like that with the playbook. You just see selfless acts like that. You see him serve others. I think for a while now he’s come on for us. Again, I think that started off the field and I think that translated to Saturdays. Now, you guys see what you see out of him.”