Vols dealing with gargantuan age gaps within their football roster

Tennessee will be a veteran football team this season.
The Volunteers are overrun with youth.
As Josh Heupel approaches his third autumn in Knoxville, both of those statements are accurate.
When the Vols face Virginia in Nashville's Nissan Stadium on Sept. 2, they will do so with more than 30 scholarship seniors and more than 30 scholarship redshirt or true freshmen. The quarterback room headed by sixth-year senior Joe Milton III and five-star freshman Nico Iamaleava is reflective of multiple position areas on the Tennessee roster.
"There are essentially two recruiting classes that are gone from our roster, and that's how you end up with the numbers kind of being what they are," Heupel said last week at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Nashville. "There is a unique blend of experience and guys who have been inside our program and have helped lay the foundation, and there are a lot of young guys who have come into it."
Tennessee's 2021 signing class, which coincided with the implosion of the Jeremy Pruitt era, was headed by quarterback Kaidon Salter, linebacker Aaron Willis, and receivers Kaemen Marley and Walker Merrill. Willis and Merrill played sparingly before transferring, while Salter and Marley never made it to the field.
The remnants of that tumultuous class include running back Jaylen Wright and defensive backs Christian Charles and De'Shawn Rucker. That class also housed former Georgia Military College edge rusher Byron Young, who starred the past two seasons for the Vols before getting selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the third round of April's NFL draft.
Tennessee's sophomore contingent — those who signed in the 2022 cycle — has shown more promise in terms of sticking around and contributing. That crop contains running back Dylan Sampson, receiver Squirrel White, defensive linemen Joshua Josephs, James Pearce and Tyre West, linebackers Elijah Herring and Kaleb Perry, and defensive back Jourdan Thomas.
The freshman class that Heupel inked earlier this year has 25 members.
"I absolutely love the young guys inside of our program," Heupel said. "I love their maturity off of the field, their maturity inside of our building and who they are and how they attack every day and how they love their brothers.
"It's a really good dynamic inside of our building right now."

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