A lot has changed since last Sept. when Brandon Johnson decided to redshirt his senior season and to return for a fifth year in 2020.
Jeremy Pruitt and his team, stabilized what seemed like a sinking ship, winning six straight games to end the year while parlaying the success on the field to success on the recruiting trail.
Then COVID-19 struck in March, sending players home for nearly three months and threatening the viability of the 2020 season.
Through all the chaos and uncertainty, Johnson doesn’t regret his decision but approaches his final collegiate season with enthusiasm.
“I’m definitely confident that it was the right decision for me,” Pruitt said. “It wasn’t just a decision for myself, it was a decision for my team. I feel like I’d be better suited to help my team out this year, and I don’t regret anything. I’m pretty excited.”
Johnson’s totaled 60 career catches for 738 yards. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native’s best season came during Butch Jones final season, where he hauled in 37 catches for 482 yards.
Johnson believes the time away helped him view the game from a different perspective, leading to an increase in confidence in 2020.
“You look at things from a different standpoint when you’re not actually in it,” Johnson said. “Maybe you’re sitting back and looking at other guys, you may be able to realize, ‘this works or maybe this works,’ different thing like that. I really think sitting back for a little while really helped me improve my game.”
Tennessee’s receiver group has turnover in 2020 as the Vols will look to replace the production of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callway. While Johnson may not start, he’ll almost certainly play a big role in attempting to replace the duo.
The Vols added a highly touted receiver class in the offseason to help fill the void Jennings and Callaway left, and the young players and veterans have helped push each other this fall camp.
“All the freshmen look really good, the future is super bright,” Johnson said. “They’re pushing us to A. compete on a high level every day and also they’re challenging our leadership. With freshmen come a certain level of leadership, being able to bring young guys along and show them the ropes.”
That leadership has taken on a whole new purpose in a 2020 season that has already been full of adversity. However, Johnson has been happy with the way guys have responded to the adversity of players missing practice time due to COVID-19 or contact tracing guidelines.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been too challenging to this point,” Johnson said. “Just because I feel like everybody came into camp with the right mindset. I think that goes a long way, so it really hasn’t been too challenging for guys in leadership roles because they have their head on straight.”
While replacing Jennings and Callaway’s production on the field will likely be dispersed amongst a handful of players, their senior leadership has been taken by Johnson. With as much adversity as the Vols have already faced in 2020, that could be even more important.