KNOXVILLE – The departure was a soap-opera for Henry To’oTo’o and the landscape has drastically changed at Tennessee since he left. But the former Vols linebacker will return to Neyland Stadium on Saturday.
Even though the linebacker played against his former team in 2021, this will be the first time a former transfer who left after Jeremy Pruitt’s firing has played in Knoxville.
A tense off-season following the departure of Pruitt led to over 30 players leaving the program. To’o To’o made the biggest splash of them all when he decided to enter the transfer portal. A lot of this had to do with how loved he was by Tennessee fans and the Knoxville community.
A lot has changed for both Tennessee and To’oto’o in the past two years. Henry points to his body and game as the biggest areas of growth.
“First off, I’d say it’s my body. You know, my body has changed so much. Our strength and conditioning staff does a great job of knowing who you are as a person, knowing your strengths, knowing your fundamental things you need to work on.
“And also my game,” To’oTo’o said. “The coaches have done a great job of you know, the little things that matter as a football player, so I think that’s all part of my game.”
It will certainly be a different feeling for the former linebacker, who became a fan favorite during his time at Tennessee. When To’oTo’o runs out of the visiting locker room Saturday, the fan response will most likely be a mixture of boo’s and golf claps.
The Return To Neyland Stadium
Even though he will try not to make a big deal out of it, one can imagine his emotions when hitting the field. But as usual, Henry made it about the team during his media availability this week.
“Definitely super excited,” To’oto’o said. “You guys already know my journey and where I started. So definitely going to be a huge challenge. They’re a great team. It’s gonna be a great environment, so we’re excited about playing in another hostile environment, being able to test who we are as a team.”
“It’s another game on the road for us. Big rivalry game tradition wise,” To’oTo’o added about the game. “This tradition runs deep. Super excited to be able to uphold that tradition and that legacy of Alabama football.”
To’oTo’o started 22 games at Tennessee, with 148 tackles over the two years he wore an orange jersey.
After multiple coaches that he became comfortable with over his two years in Knoxville were fired, Henry felt it was time to move on.
Even before being fired, thinking he would remain at Tennessee, Jeremy Pruitt and assistant coaches flew out to California to try and persuade the linebacker to stay in Knoxville to no avail.
Both sides have moved on to find success. Even though there is still a love-hate relationship for some fans towards To’oTo’o, he still respects the rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee, dating back to his time in Knoxville.
“We always knew this was a big game, no matter what game it was,” To’oTo’o said. “That tradition never dies. Alabama Tennessee will always live forever. That’ll be a game everybody looks forward to in the third week of October.”