"I'm a loyal person," Brent Vinson said during Saturday's Picture Day at Neyland Stadium. "I believe in loyalty. Tennessee is the place I wanted to come to since Day 1. They stuck with me after high school, stayed with me while I was in prep school, so I'm loyal to Tennessee."
The speedy 6-2, 190-pounder says he matured tremendously as a person – not just as a player – during his year at military school. He admits being somewhat raw and rebellious coming out of the Newport News/Hampton area.
"Breaking away from there and getting into a system where I was submitting to authority was kind of like taking a cat and throwing it into the jungle, and you don't even help it out or anything," he said. "But I was able to thrive off the guys around me. I had a lot of good guys around me at the military academy who kept me focused and motivated. We all stayed positive and, at the end of the day, we all got done what we needed to do."
The fact Vinson has a year of added maturity and a season of prep school football under his belt should help him earn immediate playing time as a Vol receiver this fall. Tennessee has some holes to fill, since the top three pass catchers from 2006 are no longer around.
"Right now everything's looking pretty good if I keep working hard," Vinson said. "Every guy wants to play, so I'm just going to do the best I can do, show the talent that I have, show I'm a player who can be coached."
Vinson said he felt "honored" when he pulled on his orange jersey for the first time Saturday morning, adding that it makes a freshman feel like "sitting around looking in the mirror all the time."
No doubt Tennessee coaches feel just as honored to have him on their roster. A cousin of Atlanta Falcons' cornerback Jimmy Williams, Vinson piled up more than 1,200 receiving yards as a high school senior and returned four punts for touchdowns that fall. His best game at Hargrave was a 350-yard receiving performance against West Virginia's junior varsity.
Now Vinson is hoping to make a smooth transition from prep school to the big-time college ranks. He knows fans are concerned that Tennessee's wideout corps may be substandard this fall, and he wants to eliminate those fears.
"A lot of people talk about Wide Receiver U," he said, "and we do our best to work hard and try to fulfill that statement. We know what's at stake. As long as we work hard and stay together, helping each other out, I believe we'll be able to bring it back to Wide Receiver U."