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VOL. 46 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 15, 2022

‘Squirrel’ White scurries into hearts of players, coaches

By Rhiannon Potkey

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White, though small in stature, could be a large part of Tennessee’s fall plans.

-- Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

If people didn’t realize Marquarius White is known for speed, his nickname is a dead giveaway.

The freshman everyone calls “Squirrel” has made an immediate impression during spring ball as an early enrollee for the Tennessee football team.

“Squirrel can freakin’ run,” first-year Tennessee wide receivers coach Kelsey Pope says. “He doesn’t bat an eye when things get chaotic. He is flying around. If someone’s trying to be physical, he’ll match that intensity and physicality.”

Tennessee, which is completing its second spring season under UT head coach Josh Heupel, didn’t hold a traditional spring game this year because Neyland Stadium is undergoing renovations.

Tennessee held its second scrimmage of the spring Saturday amid chilly temperatures, and Heupel was pleased with the progress he’s seen.

“It’s a group that wants to be their best. That’s the endeavor or the journey that we’re on right now,” he says. “I love the leadership that we’re getting in the locker room. You saw a ton of energy in the way those guys played today. You saw it a bunch in the turnovers that were created. I love the way we are continuing to grow.”

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound White has been a player many UT veterans have mentioned as standing out during spring practice.

A former star at Clay-Chalkville High School in Pinson, Alabama, White chose the Vols over scholarship offers from more than 20 other schools, including national champion Georgia.

He’s expected to provide a weapon for fifth-year senior quarterback Hendon Hooker in UT’s fast-paced offensive attack.

“I love the way Squirrel White plays,” UT fifth-year senior tight end Jacob Warren adds. “Obviously, he’s not a very big guy, right? Super fast, super explosive, and so the way he plays is super interesting to me, because obviously I’m the complete opposite, right?”

Like all young players, White will mature and gain more size and muscle under the guidance of UT’s strength and conditioning staff.

Even if he can’t always match up physically with some bigger defenders, Pope says White has an intangible component to compensate.

“He’s got the biggest heart,” Pope points out. “He’s the smallest stature, but got the biggest heart in the room, probably. Love that kid.”

There have been times during spring practice when Warren catches himself as more of a fan in observing White darting across the middle of the field catching balls out of the slot.

“But I love watching him because he, for his age and for how young he is, he’s super (heady) just about situational football,” Warren says. “Whether it’s understanding he’s got to get down when we’re in a four-minute situation, understanding he has to push his route that’s maybe supposed to be 10 yards. He needs to really push it to 12 to get the first down.”

Heupel has been happy with the performance of all the young wide receivers as they adjust to their first taste of college.

“I think those guys have shown a great ability. Even leading into spring ball, I thought they grasped what we were doing,” Heupel says. “They spent a ton of extra time inside of the building trying to understand, you know, see and recognizing signals and being able to function as a group. As a whole, as a young group coming in, they’ve handled and transitioned into college football and the tempo and style of how we play about as well as a group I’ve ever been around.”

Pope echoes Heupel’s assessment of White, Cameron Miller, Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb.

“We’re at that point in spring where slowing down is not moving as fast for them and you’re able to see those guys make plays and really who they are,” Pope explains. “They’ve embraced the culture and really come in here and done the work. You see that, and the older guys see it. They know the competition is real. If I’m not on my p’s and q’s, if I’m not paying attention to detail. We’ve got four young guys in here that are hungry. That just elevates the play in the room. Those young guys have been great, each one of them.”

Although the UT coaching staff is focused on building the cohesion of entire positional groups, this time of year lends more to assessing how each piece fits within the group dynamic.

“It’s about individuals for sure, in spring football, the growth that they show,” Heupel says. “That could be in the way they compete and play when coaches are truly off the field.

“It’s their ability to see and recognize signals, get their alignment right and get their eyes in the right place. Can they go make plays when they’re in those situations? How do they handle success and adversity?”

White has shown the early propensity to become a major weapon for the Vols in the future. Junior wide receiver Jalin Hyatt understands the ups and downs that come in college and is trying to help pave the way for White and the other UT newcomers to excel.

“I’m very proud of the freshmen,” Hyatt says. “Squirrel – I try to stay hard on him because he reminds me of myself when he came in weight-wise, and just a lot of physicality things he still needs to work on.

“But he’s going to be a great player. He’s getting used to the offense, fast, quick. He’s going to be a very good player.”

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