Freshmen and transfers to watch in Tennessee's 2024 Orange & White Game

Tennessee football is preparing for their annual Orange & White Spring Game so here are some freshmen and first-year transfers to watch.
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel with defensive backs Boo Carter (23) and Jakobe Thomas (30)
Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel with defensive backs Boo Carter (23) and Jakobe Thomas (30) / Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA

Tennessee football's annual Orange & White Spring Game is Saturday, April 13, at 1 pm ET. Here's everything you need to know about the spring game. The stadium will look a little different this year, with capacity limited to only 10,000 fans, but that isn't going to stop the Vols from putting on a show in front of Vol faithful.

Josh Heupel is entering his fourth season as Tennessee's head coach and preparing his third quarterback in four years to take over the offense. Nico Iamaleava will have the most eyes on him as he prepares to run the offense full-time as Tennessee's QB1. We haven't seen a lot from Nico, but we did get a sneak peek into the future with the Vols' 35-0 Citrus Bowl win over Iowa.

That's the last we saw Nico and most of the returning Vols, so it will be interesting to see how each position group meshes with new faces throughout the offense and defense. We've also seen some impressive clips and comments from players about first-year transfers and freshmen performing above expectations in spring camp.

This has created a buzz surrounding those players throughout Vol Nation and VolTwitter (VolX?). While Nico will be the marquee player, he won't be mentioned much in this list. Everyone knows to watch Nico, but who else should you keep an eye on? Here are some freshmen and first-year transfers you need to keep an eye on with the Vols taking the field for their annual intrasquad scrimmage.

Mike Matthews

Mike Matthews comes into spring camp as a four-star recruit out of high school. He enrolled early, and it seems like his time in the program this spring is paying off early. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound receiver has received praise from outside and within the program.

Dont'e Thornton was quick to notice Matthews and his explosiveness at receiver. His ability to stretch the field and competitive fire will help him be successful, or as Thornton said, unstoppable. "He's very explosive," Thornton said earlier this month. "Once he gets the speed of the game and then learns the playbook, he's going to be unstoppable."

The Vols WR room is already deep, with Bru McCoy returning for one more season, Squirrel White, Thornton, and Kaleb Webb also returning, and Chris Brazzell coming in from Tulane. All of those guys are competing for playing time. Add freshmen Braylon Staley and Matthews to the mix, and Tennessee has the potential to have one of the best young WR groups in America. 

Boo Carter

While Matthews has been making plays on the offensive side of the ball, Boo Carter has been showing out on defense as well. He has been showing glimpses of potential that exceeds what we are used to from Tennessee's secondary under Heupel.

He earned Tennessee 6A Mr. Football honors as a senior and has brought his physicality and play-making abilities to Rocky Top. Vols receiver Squirrel White has taken notice and called Carter special, "Boo Carter is special. He's like a playmaker out there. He flies to the ball. He has re-routed us and has made good tackles. He's been great."

Carter could see the field early in the 2024 season in a secondary with transfers and inexperienced players. Willie Martinez seems to be impressed with Carter already.

Jaxson Moi

Jaxson Moi is a first-year transfer from Stanford. He is a three-star transfer, adding some much-needed depth to Tennessee's defense. He is a big man, standing at 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 303 pounds, and can be a playmaker for the Vols.

He is a gritty football player who brings a "dawg" mentality to the trenches. Moi was a run-stopper for the Cardinal, but the Vols will be looking to add some skills to strengthen his pass-rushing on Knoxville.

Moi might not be a starter for Tennessee this year, but he can be a key depth piece for the Vols, giving some physicality and helping the Vols run defense early in the year. The Orange & White Game will be the first time we get to see how Tennessee's defensive line will look this year, and Moi can take them to the next level off the bench.

Chris Brazzell II

Tennessee brought in another big, strong receiver from the transfer portal this winter. Chris Brazzell II transferred in from Tulane and is 6-foot-5, 195 pounds. He will also be wearing No. 11, last seen in Tennessee Orange when Jalin Hyatt torched secondaries in 2022.

Brazzell earned All-American honors last season as a freshman and came to Knoxville with three years remaining eligibility. It's clear why Brazzell was a hot name this offseason and earned national recognition after watching Tulane and Brazzell's highlights. He's a fast, strong receiver that can be used all over the field.

Nico throwing to Brazzell might be seen a lot over the next two to three years if both continue to progress in the right direction. Brazzell will be a playmaker for the Vols in a crowded WR room. He's still young but could be a deep threat for the Vols this season.

Jermod McCoy

Jermod McCoy will likely be a starter in Tennessee's secondary this year. He was a three-star prospect out of high school and primarily played receiver, but he accepted his only Power 5 offer to Oregon State and ran with it.

He jumped up to a four-star transfer this winter and made the move to Rocky Top after Tennessee cleaned house in the secondary. McCoy is using his experience as a great receiver at the corner position.

Rickey Gibson III, a second-year corner, was highly praised for McCoy in his first Spring practices on Rocky Top. "He's very fluent in his movements and he can play the ball very well, so I could kind of see that receiver side," Gibson said of McCoy.

McCoy will likely be a starter for Tennessee this year and can help get Tennessee's revamped secondary starting on the right track this spring.

Jakobe Thomas

Jakobe Thomas is another transfer coming in to help out the Tennessee secondary. He was a top 10 safety in the portal, bringing physicality and aggression to the Vols' secondary. In two years at MTSU, Thomas had 108 Tackles, 2 Forced Fumbles, and 4 Interceptions. If you're wondering if his play style will transition to the SEC, take a look at this big hit against Alabama. 

You can find a lot of that same physicality in Thomas' games at MTSU. I would like to see how Thomas and Boo Carter mesh as the two safeties on the field. Both are young guys but bring a physical mentality to the secondary that has struggled over the past few years.

Next. NFL Draft: 3 teams that need Tennessee RB Jaylen Wright. NFL Draft: 3 teams that need Tennessee RB Jaylen Wright. dark

Tennessee's Orange & White Game will be on Saturday, April 13, at 1 pm ET at Neyland Stadium in front of a limited crowd due to stadium renovations. There are more freshmen and transfers to watch, but these players could make an immediate impact for the Vols this Fall.