Tennessee LBs Aaron Beasley (No. 6), Keenan Pili (No. 11), Arion Carter (No. 7). Photo by RTI.
Tennessee freshman linebacker Arion Carter has been one of the many talking points across the first seven practices of the Vols’ fall camp slate.
A late riser on the recruiting trail, Carter chose Tennessee over Alabama and Ohio State in December 2022 to give the Vols a highly-coveted piece late in the recruiting cycle. The Volunteer State native enrolled early with the Vols and was present for both bowl practices and spring camp.
Josh Heupel said on Thursday that players needed to look different between spring camp and fall ball. Carter has been turning heads during fall camp with his impressive physicality and build. Despite being just a freshman, Carter looks like he could earn some real playing time as a linebacker for the Volunteers this season.
ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren posted his list of the Top 50 newcomers in college football on Friday morning. VanHaaren’s list covers both transfer players and freshmen “who are coming into the right situation at the right time to help make their team better.”
Carter, Tennessee’s lone player on the list, lands at No. 44 in the rankings.
“Carter was a star linebacker in high school who also played running back,” VanHaaren wrote. “He chose Tennessee over Alabama and received praise from his coaches throughout the spring. There are some experienced players ahead of Carter at linebacker, but the Tennessee coaches have said this offseason that Carter doesn’t look like a freshman. If he keeps progressing on the path he’s on, he should make a significant impact in 2023.”
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Tennessee has a revamped linebacker room heading into the 2023 season. The Vols lost Jeremy Banks, Juwan Mitchell, and Solon Page III, leaving room open for a new crop of players to take over. Aaron Beasley found a nice role during the 2022 season and ended the Orange Bowl with a bang against Clemson.
Keenan Pili, a veteran transfer from BYU, projects to play alongside Beasley to start the season. Pili is two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Beasley and compliments the returning linebacker’s style well.
Behind Beasley and Pili are where things get interesting, though. While still young, Tennessee has several freshman and sophomore players that are coming along nicely during their first or second years with the team. Sophomore linebackers Kalib Perry and Elijah Herring continue to grow and develop while freshmen Jalen Smith, Jeremiah Telander, and Carter are already showing solid traits.
Carter, though, stands out among the rest. The former Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Tennessee looks well-built and has a strong understanding and mindset of the game and the Vols’ defense according to his coaches.
Carter does have his freshman moments, though. But according to linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary, Carter has the ability to attack his mistakes head-on.
“The thing with Arion is that he plays so hard, fast and is a great athlete so he’s able to overcome some of those mistakes that maybe some other people can’t,” Jean-Mary said during fall camp. “We are not going to spoon-feed him. We are going to keep force-feeding him and putting him in difficult situations so he learns from them and if he does it right, he can explain why he did it right. We feel confident that if he does it wrong, we are going to be able to correct it and make sure he does it right the next time.”
Carter has also made an impression on another Tennessee newcomer with veteran transfer tight end McCallan Castles.
“Oh, man. I have to shoutout Arion Carter,” Castles said during a press conference this past week. “That dude fills holes fast and he’s going to lace you in the hole. I’ve never seen a dude come in so ready to play— from a young guys standpoint.”
To see the full Top 50 college football newcomers list from ESPN, click here.