Players who opt out of bowl games have been accused of quitting on their teams in the past. However, often times it’s their teammates defending their decision. Such is the case with Tennessee football.
This week, it was revealed that the Vols’ two 1,000-yard receivers the past two years, Cedric Tillman in 2021 and Jalin Hyatt in 2022, will opt out of the Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers. They have a defender in tight end Jacob Warren.
“You have to look out for yourself, and you have to understand that there’s decision that are made strictly based on what’s best for an individual,” he said. “If you sit back and you really look at it, as many logical people would, you would be like, ‘Okay. That makes sense. I get it.'”
Warren’s quotes follow Cooper Mays last week defending players opting out of bowl games. He was specifically referring to Tillman in that above quote.
An ankle injury in the third game of the year caused Tillman to miss half the season. He fought hard to return after suffering that but never seemed quite right.
“I’m sure it’s been hard for him mentally and just emotionally going through this,” he said. “He had such high expectations for himself performance wise and just where he wanted to be, and it’s just unfortunate that he didn’t necessarily get to do that.”
Last year, Tillman caught 64 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns. He decided to forgo the draft and run it back with Hendon Hooker. Early on, the decision seemed like the right move.
At the Pittsburgh Panthers, Tillman had nine catches for 162 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime. His injury was early in the first half the next week against the Akron Zips. He finished the year with 37 catches for 417 yards and three touchdowns.
Obviously, Hyatt replaced Tillman’s production with 67 catches for 1,267 yards and a school-record 15 touchdowns. He is also opting out of the bowl, but again Warren defended him.
“That’s the best receiver in the nation, and you can’t argue with that, and you can’t blame him for wanting to go take that next step and live out his dream, so again, same situation,” he said. “It stinks, but obviously the kid’s thought about it, and he’s talked to his family and all the people that he trusts, and they came to the decision that this is the best thing for him, and so we have to support him in that.”
Tillman actually didn’t play after Tennessee football lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks, a game that ended their College Football Playoff hopes. He finished playing six games this year.
Hyatt revealed he would be with the team supporting them on the trip to Miami. Warren noted that they are both still around as everybody prepares for Clemson.
“They still are hanging out with us and talking with us and just being normal because that’s what it is,” he said. “We’re just living our lives, and they made the decisions for themselves, so we support them in every way.”