It all started Saturday afternoon, when news broke that Jeremy Banks did not travel with Tennessee football to face the South Carolina Gamecocks. The news was already odd, as he never did seem hurt, but he could have gotten hurt in practice, and reports surfaced that he was sick.
However, as the Vols were in the midst of arguably the worst defensive performance in history, allowing South Carolina to score touchdowns on nine of their 10 offensive possessions in that game, rumors began to swirl that he was suspended internally. It started on Twitter.
By the end, there were two narratives, both of which involved Banks fighting Hendon Hooker. One narrative said it was about Banks stepping on the Power T in the locker room and Hooker confronting him over not the doing push-ups required when a player does that.
Another, seemingly more likely narrative, is that they were fighting over NIL money. Reports also surfaced that Joe Milton III got in between them, some going as far as to say that he broke Banks’ jaw. What has the most legs, though, at its root, is that Banks was suspended for fighting Hooker.
One final piece of this is that Tennessee football’s defense allegedly quit on the team over Banks being suspended. So how true is all of this? Well, after Monday’s press conference, we can safely say there is some legitimacy to it.
When asked directly about the situation in his Monday press conference, Josh Heupel dodged the question. Keep in mind, he was asked specifically if Banks was out due to a suspension and if it specifically had something to do with an altercation between him and Hooker.
“We anticipate Jeremy being with us here this week,” he said in his response. “As far as what transpired and those type of things, at the end of the day, he wasn’t available this (past) Saturday.”
How could anybody look at that quote and not assume that the rumor is at least partially true? It pretty much confirms that, and it also adds to what Heupel said in his postgame press conference Saturday, which first made the rumor seem legitimate.
Heupel said he hoped the loss would sting even for players who didn’t make the trip in that presser. That was an odd thing to say, and seemed like a direct shot at Banks. It came after Chris Fowler reported Banks being out for an “unspecified reason” in the game and the rumors exploding on Twitter.
To be fair to Banks, he said it wasn’t about any conflict in an Instagram story Sunday night. However, given the rumors on Twitter, what Heupel said Saturday and then Monday when confronted directly about what happened and Fowler’s comments, there is something there.
We’ll probably never get the full story, but the rumors explain a lot. Sure, the Vols’ secondary has issues. It’s also true that they probably entered without the right intensity given Saturday’s slate of close games. However, none of that would explain such a horrendous performance.
Only something like the rumored Banks drama creeping into their minds could result in them playing that poorly. Whether it was them quitting or just feeling a type of way about the situation is a different question, but either could have a huge impact.
Taking all this into account, this conflict may have been one derailed Tennessee football’s playoff hope. It also ended brutally, as Hooker, who may have been a part of it, suffered a season-ending injury that ended his career on Rocky Top. These are awful consequences from such actions, if they did indeed happen.