The bitter taste that Jarrett Guarantano had in his mouth as he walked off the field at Commodores Stadium on a cold, chilly night in November was never going to be normal.
For the then-redshirt sophomore quarterback and Tennessee fans alike, the feeling was nothing short of misery.
Falling to their in-state rival for the third consecutive year, the Vols’ bowl game eligibility vanquished into thin air as they trudged back to the locker room with their heads down. Vanderbilt fans taunted them as their coaches and players celebrated on the far sideline.
Nearly a year later, Guarantano is using that memory as added fuel as he enters his third season under center.
“I think that was part of the maturation process, just saying that there are things I want to get better at,” Guarantano said. “And (figuring out) how do I do so, how do I become more cerebral?”
Just how does he plan to do that? Guarantano has been watching other quarterbacks — and not just the icons he looks up to in the NFL.
“I looked at Deshaun Watson, I looked at Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees,” Guarantano said. “I looked at Tua (Tagavailoa), I looked at (Jake) Fromm and Trevor (Lawrence) a little bit.”
With each quarterback came a different style of play, and Guarantano is attempting to integrate as much from each one into his game as possible.
“I studied a lot of guys. ... They’re all different types of players, so I mixed it up a little.”
The film room hasn’t been the only space Guarantano has locked himself in this summer either.
The Lodi, New Jersey native adopted quite the workout philosophy during the offseason. While most college students were flocking towards sunny beaches, renting lake houses or taking trips to Cancun, Guarantano was in the gym.
Whether he was pounding weights inside the Anderson Training Center or going for a swift run, the redshirt junior’s mindset has not wavered since that fateful night in Nashville. That dedication has also carried over to his diet, which has helped him pack on additional muscle.
His head coach has taken notice too, and not just in regards to Guarantano’s improved physique.
“The one thing about the quarterback position is Jarrett has the ability to make the guys around him better,” Jeremy Pruitt said. “He has had a really good camp, and he has to continue to improve every single day.”
Guarantano’s go-to pregame meal? The simple, sugar-free carbohydrates found in a bowl of freshly-made pasta courtesy of his roots.
“I’m an Italian boy, so I usually go with pasta,” Guarantano said at SEC Media Days in Hoover. “That helps me enough to get through the game.”
As Guarantano attempts to master his second offensive system in as many seasons, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is hard-at-work putting together a playbook that will not only allow him to be successful, but allow the offensive line to protect him as well.
He’s also cognizant of building a strong relationship with his quarterbacks, something Chaney was very successful with at Georgia with the likes of Jake Fromm, who was one of the conference’s most productive signal callers last season.
When it pertains to Guarantano, it’s his willingness to continuously learn that has stood out to Chaney the most.
“He’s a very good student of football. He has a good attitude, and he has a good feel for the game,” Chaney said. “I like Jarrett. We’ve developed a good relationship thus far.”
Offensively, the Vols certainly weren’t one of the prettier teams in the country in 2018. They averaged just 23 points per game and produced an average of 326 yards in 12 games.
Boasting a revamped playbook and an offensive line that has added size and strength, Guarantano is in position to have the most prolific season of his career, and he credits that to Chaney’s new-look philosophies.
“We’ve changed the whole offense, and it’s really quarterback-driven — a lot of protection stuff and defensive looks,” Guarantano said. “I’m very happy that he’s the coach, and he’s really helped my game out a lot.”