Cole Cubelic talked to an emotional Jarrett Guarantano shortly after his career day fueled a bowl eligibility-clinching win against Mizzou at Faurot Field.

Holding back tears, Guarantano addressed the ups and downs of his career, and how grateful he was for his family and his teammates. Playing in the postseason for the first time clearly meant more for the junior, and understandably so. The guy has taken as much punishment as any college football player the past three years.

And no, I’m not just referencing the offensive line issues that have exposed Guarantano to hit after hit throughout his time in Knoxville.

As we found out a bit later that night, Guarantano dealt with a different kind of punishment this year.

“There were so many guys that were there for me throughout the death threats, the mean messages to the sister. They were all there for me, and it really meant a lot,” Guarantano said. “There were some hectic times for me, and they were there for me every step of the way like I was there for them in the past. It really meant a lot for me, and I’m just hopefully able to pay them back the way I did tonight.”

 

Hold up.

Death threats? At Guarantano? Excuse me?

The death threats Guarantano referred to came after his costly goal-line fumble in the Alabama game. Guarantano received plenty of criticism for that play, as did head coach Jeremy Pruitt after he pulled the Tennessee quarterback’s helmet for going rogue at the line of scrimmage.

I don’t care if Guarantano literally walked into the field that night, curled up into the fetal position and used the football as a pillow. He’s the last person who should have to deal with something serious like that.

(For what it’s worth, Pruitt said that Guarantano’s postgame comments were the first he had heard about that. He said the university is looking into where those threats came from.)

I’ll save you the whole rant on why threatening a college athlete in general is incredibly stupid and immature. It’s in the same vein as tweeting at recruits. Then again, I highly doubt the people who do that have enough patience to make it 300 words through a column, so that’s probably falling on deaf ears.

Anybody with half a brain knows that Guarantano meant a ton to Tennessee, even before he went on this post-Alabama run to help clinch the Vols’ first bowl in three years. Here’s someone who, besides repeatedly getting up from all the sacks and hits he took throughout his career, was a former 4-star recruit who never left despite the fact that Tennessee:

  • A) had a new offensive coordinator every year he was there;
  • B) watched one of those coordinators hand-pick a grad transfer QB;
  • C) changed head coaches after his freshman year;
  • D) benched him in the middle of his junior season;
  • E) all of the above.

It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”

Now imagine telling yourself that a kid who is still proudly wearing the Tennessee jersey while saying and doing all the right things deserves death threats.

It wasn’t that long ago that Guarantano was the guy who didn’t understand how to be team-first. Remember the 2017 opener against Georgia Tech, when he didn’t start? His sideline body language looked like an entitled freshman.

I mean, Guarantano looks like he was ready to enter the transfer portal — which didn’t exist yet — by the time the clock hit zero. Compare that to the guy who was asked about coming back to Tennessee next year in that same post-Mizzou interview.

“Yeah, I’m a Tennessee Vol. I put my body on the line for the past three years, I put my mind, heart, soul into this. I love Knoxville and I’m a Tennessee Vol,” Guarantano said. “I’m just thankful that we get the opportunity to get another two games going this year and then next year, we get on a little roll. But I’m a Tennessee Vol.”

And darn it if he isn’t right on the money.

Even if you thought the pre-2019 Guarantano hype train got a bit out of control — like me — and that he’d mostly been a punching bag for some lean years of Tennessee football, at least appreciate the sacrifice he has made to stick it out in Knoxville. Believe me: He would’ve had several Power 5 suitors. Lord knows he could’ve taken the first flight back home to New Jersey and started for Rutgers tomorrow.

(Though I suppose that would’ve been a different kind of punishment than playing behind that Tennessee offensive line.)

I realize this is mostly preaching to the choir. At this point, even the person who made the death threat at Guarantano and said stuff about his sister — that’s not okay, either — probably has a different kind of appreciation for the Tennessee quarterback. That’s what winning four of five games will do. But it shouldn’t.

Appreciation for a kid like Guarantano should’ve come a long time ago. Unanimous appreciation. Even if he does nothing but struggle for the rest of his time in Knoxville, his place in Tennessee history should be safe. He wasn’t Peyton Manning or even Erik Ainge. But if Tennessee does return to prominence in the next few years, we’ll all look back at what Guarantano did and realize how important his impact was.

Yes, it could’ve been better the past couple of years. The rebuild, which is ongoing, could’ve happened sooner with better quarterback play. But we’re now looking at a Tennessee program that improved its win total in consecutive years for the first time since 2007. That happened in part because of a defense that’s vastly better than when it started the season with losses to Georgia State and BYU.

It also happened because Guarantano stayed locked in and was ready to return as the team’s starter when it was clear that Brian Maurer’s concussions were going to keep him out for an extended period. He should’ve been void of death threats long before that, but as everyone always says, this is a results-based business.

Even if you didn’t threaten a 21-year-old’s life and you’re simply of the impression that Guarantano is just another kid, take a step back and put yourself in that situation. At least try to. Imagine having that kind of loyalty to your college and getting your life threatened because you fumbled a ball.

Yeah, no wonder Guarantano fought back tears on Saturday night.