Tennessee’s new coach appears likely to face the challenge of replacing the Vols’ best defensive player in 2021. Linebacker Henry To’o To’o, the former top-50 prospect who led the Vols in tackles during his sophomore season in 2020, officially entered the NCAA transfer portal on Wednesday, sources told GoVols247. There’s been plenty of speculation about To’o To’o and his future with the Vols, but the firing of Jeremy Pruitt on Monday amid an investigation into alleged NCAA violations may lead to the talented defender continuing his career elsewhere.
Just days before his ouster, Pruitt was accompanied by defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley, new staff hire Kevin Steele and support staffer Kevin Simon, who like To’o To’o played at De Le Salle High School in California, on a trip to Sacramento to visit with To’o To’o and his family. The player was not present at the team meeting the night Pruitt’s firing was announced. To’o To’o wasn’t scheduled to return to Knoxville for the start of the spring semester until later in the week.
However, the departure of Pruitt and Brian Niedermeyer, who recruited To’o To’o to Tennessee and was his position coach in 2020, were too much to keep To’o To’o in the fold, and now he will explore the option of leaving the Vols and playing elsewhere, and he’ll have no shortage of suitors now that he’s officially in the NCAA transfer database.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound To’o To’o led Tennessee in 2020 with 76 tackles and 10 tackles for loss, tying for fourth in the SEC in TFLs. In 10 games, To’o To’o added one sack and two pass breakups, and he returned an interception for a touchdown in the season-opening win at South Carolina and caught a 31-yard pass on a fake punt against Vanderbilt. He had three double-digit tackle games this past season, finishing with 11 against Georgia and 10 and a career-high 13 against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M in the final two games.
To’o To’o earned SEC All-Freshman Team honors and was named to the 247Sports True Freshman All-American Team after he made an instant impact for Tennessee’s defense during his first year in the program in 2019. To’o To’o ranked second among SEC freshmen and fourth among FBS freshmen with 72 tackles, finishing second on the team. He added five tackles for loss, a half-sack, two pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery on the season while starting 12 of 13 games.
One of Pruitt’s biggest recruiting wins, To’o To’o chose Tennessee over Alabama and Washington on National Signing Day in February 2019. He was ranked the No. 44 overall player and No. 3 outside linebacker prospect in the 2019 class in the industry-generated 247Sports Composite. To’o To’o, who has seven siblings and is extremely close with his family, lived up to the billing after coming across the country to play for the Vols, becoming the first true freshman to start a season opener at linebacker for Tennessee since 2011.