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Josh Heupel talks ‘electric’ wide receiver Dont’e Thornton

Could be a star in the making.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

We know what Tennessee lost from last year’s offense, but if the Orange Bowl is any indication, they’re going to be just fine in 2023. Ramel Keyton, Bru McCoy and Squirrel White slid into the top of the depth chart and didn’t miss a beat with Joe Milton under center.

That core alone would have Tennessee fans feeling pretty good about this season. However, Josh Heupel went out and added another dynamic threat to the offense. Dont’e Thornton, a 6-5 burner who transfers in from Oregon, is set to take on a big role for the Volunteers this fall. After losing Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman to the NFL Draft, Thornton seems like a natural fit to replace some of that downfield production.

Josh Heupel talked about his new addition with SEC Nation on Tuesday.

“Dont’e is a special talent,” Heupel began. “Love just the way he’s come in, wanted to earn it. He’s been a great teammate. And he’s been a great worker, too.”

Thornton transfers to Tennessee after struggling to find the field at Oregon. He emerged late in the year as a sophomore, giving the ducks that downfield threat for the final few games of the year. We saw the best of him against Utah, where he turned in a four catch, 151 yard performance in a big spot. That’s an average of 37+ yards per catch, if you were wondering.

Now imagine that in Heupel’s vertical attack.

“He’s a guy that’s got great length, great frame,” Heupel said. “Got an unbelievable catch radius. Has one of the highest GPS telemetry numbers as far as his on-field speed in all of college football when he entered the transfer portal a year ago. He’s electric. But he does a great job working the middle of the football field and a really natural pass-catcher. We’re really excited about having him. He’s got the ability to play inside and outside as well. So we have some flexibility.”

His fit in the offense will be something to watch early on. Tennessee really only used three receivers last year until injuries hit, so seeing a bit of a rotation would be something different. But the thought of playing the matchup game with a 6-5 burner out of the slot has to be exciting for Heupel and offensive coordinator Joey Halzle.

Hear more from Heupel and the Vols on Thursday in Nashville at SEC Media Days.