Austin Pope explains decision to remain with Tennessee football after exploring transfer
Austin Pope peeked at the transfer market, but in the end he decided to finish his college football career where it began: at Tennessee.
Pope, a senior tight end, announced Sunday that he will remove his name from the NCAA transfer portal, and he intends to use his final year of eligibility with the Vols in 2021.
"After considering of a number of other excellent football programs, along with some unfortunate family circumstances, I have decided that my love for the University of Tennessee and its football program runs too deep to leave with so many loose ends," Pope said in a statement to Knox News. "I have officially decided that I will withdraw from the transfer portal. The love I have for my own family, as well as my Vol family, has led me to this decision – The University of Tennessee is my home."
Pope had the option to return for an additional senior year thanks to an NCAA ruling in August that the 2020 season will not count against a player’s eligibility. As a returning senior, he will not count against UT's limit of 85 scholarship players.
Pope, a Christian Academy of Knoxville graduate, entered the 2020 season as Tennessee's most experienced tight end. He has played in 33 career games, including 14 starts, 11 of which came in 2019.
Although not heavily involved in the passing game – he caught four passes in 2019 – Pope played an important role as a run blocker and in pass protection. He has seven career receptions.
Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren were Tennessee's top tight ends this season. Both are set to return. Fant has 12 receptions for 103 yards, and Warren has six catches for 73 yards.
Jackson Lowe entered the transfer portal in September, and Jordan Allen entered the portal earlier in December. They were reserve tight ends.
The Vols signed three-star tight ends Trinity Bell and Miles Campbell during the December signing period. Bell underwent ACL surgery this month, casting doubt on his availability for the 2021 season.
Tennessee finished 3-7 in 2020, and the Vols' offense could have benefited from Pope's experience, especially as an effective blocker.
"It has always been my goal to leave this program better than I found it," Pope said in his statement. "Were I to leave following this past season, I could not in good conscience say I was doing such – we are a better team than our 3-7 record shows, and I want to be able to say I gave my all for The University of Tennessee, something that I feel is impossible to do given my inability to participate last season due to injury. I want more for this football team and this university – my passion is to see success for Tennessee football, and I excitedly anticipate returning as a graduate for my final season this fall."
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.