The termination of head coach Jeremy Pruitt in mid January left a lot of questions for the Tennessee football program. Amongst the uncertainty, many players entered the transfer portal, opting to finish their college career away from Knoxville. Senior cornerback Alontae Taylor was one of the Vols’ veterans that waited it out and served as a team leader in a time of uncertainty.
It didn’t take long for Tennessee to tab UCF coach Josh Heupel as Pruitt’s replacement. Taylor has “a lot of faith in coach (Heupel)” even though he’s not known him very long. He spoke at Heart and Soul Church and praised Heupel’s team’s ability to score points. Taylor even named him “an offensive guru”. However, a key question has remained in his mind regarding Heupel’s offensive strengths.
“What kind of defense will we have?” Taylor asked.
As an essential member of the Vols in his junior year, he’s chosen to set the example of trusting Coach Heupel. They had a leadership group meeting after having conversations with Heupel, and in the end, he knew the best thing to do was place his confidence in him.
“From praying about it and being a leader on my team, I feel like the best thing to do is to show these guys that I trust him as well and then maybe they’ll follow me.” Taylor said.
“So we’ve had one meeting with him. He’s very interesting, I should say. There’s a big difference between him and Coach Pruitt.”
Tennessee’s flagship universities football program had uncertainty created when Pruitt was fired following a two month investigation into NCAA violations. According to Taylor, the team had expected the previous head coach to be fired due to a rough playing season and the recruiting violations. He even told Heart and Soul Church Pastor Coleman he had thoughts about transferring from UT after the release of Pruitt.
However, the Vols, despite their deficit of coaching staff, took initiative as a group and got to work.
“We talked about coming together as a group and just handling what we could handle,” Taylor said. “Which was working out, conditioning by ourselves and building our bond together because we didn’t really have that when Coach Pruitt was there.”
They had conversations together beforehand discussing the outcomes of whether Pruitt would be fired or not. Clearly, Taylor and his teammates had prepared for the worst and did what they could to be ready for Heupel.
Prayer became a means of staying focused during the dramatic coaching transition. For Taylor, prayer had allowed him to “stay level-headed” and be a key leader of the team. He chose to “pray about it and take it a day at a time” and tell his teammates that he was available if they needed anything.
“I feel like all my prayers get answered, but I also understand that I can’t pray today and get my answer tomorrow.”
However, the weight of leadership upon his shoulders pushes him closer to his religion. He makes himself available to struggling teammates in their time of need.
“I tell my teammates, ‘If you ever need anything, you can come to me and if I don’t have the answer, I’ll figure it out,’” Taylor said.