Tennessee suffered a mass exodus to the transfer portal this off-season, as long-time contributors and young, rising stars opted to find another program to compete at this fall. For Alontae Taylor, he saw close friends and counterparts leave Tennessee for either the transfer portal or the NFL Draft, but Taylor chose to stay.
He had plenty of time to make a decision to head elsewhere or test the NFL Draft waters, like his counterpart Bryce Thompson, who informed Taylor near the end of the Texas A&M game he was leaving Tennessee for the league. Since arriving at Tennessee, the two have been linked at the hip and converted to successful cornerbacks under Jeremy Pruitt's staff.
"Actually, maybe the last minute of the game against Texas A&M, he came up to me and kind of shed some little tears, and he was just saying this was his last game and that he enjoyed playing with me and that he was going to continue to look at us and just make sure that we're doing right here," Taylor recalled."
"To see the guy yesterday and see what he did in his Pro Day, conversating with him, I'm very proud of him, and I tell him every time I see him, 'You're one step closer.' Bryce is my guy. I hate that we've kind of parted ways now, but I wish him the best, and I'm looking forward to what he does in the future."
Thompson's departure, coupled with others around him leaving, would have given Taylor an easy out if he wanted it, but instead, he looked at it deeper than that, talked with his parents, and chose to remain at Tennessee because it is more than just football for him.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I thought about leaving," Taylor said Friday. "I did talk to my parents about what they thought was best for me, from the outside looking in, but it really just came down to this is my home state, and I'll always say that and that Power T means a lot to me. So whoever the new coaching staff was going to be, I was going to make sure that I stayed here as a leader as well, and I just kept the guys who wanted to stay here, keep those guys positive and just let them know we had good things coming for us and we shouldn't all just run from it, and we should just stay here as a group."
Like the new coaching staff around him, Taylor is open to a return for guys like Henry To'o To'o and Quavaris Crouch, but he is moving forward with the guys at Tennessee now.
"We love those boys. We've been to war with those boys, we've practiced with those boys, we've been winning games with those boys," Taylor said of the duo. "I talk to Crouch, and I talk to Henry almost every other day now, and if they were to decide to come back, we'll welcome them with open arms, but we have guys who are working hard now for us here for the linebacker room, and I have a lot of faith in those guys. Like I said, if they would like to come back, we'll welcome them with open arms, but the guys who are here, they're working really hard, and we're looking promising there."