NCAA Football: Tennessee at South Carolina

Tennessee tight end Eli Wolf (80) makes a touchdown reception against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half at Williams-Brice Stadium. He now feels at home at the University of Georgia.

ATHENS — Eli Wolf wasn’t recruited much coming out of Ohio’s Minster High School. He entered Tennessee in 2015 rated as a 2-star prospect. Not coincidentally he joined the Volunteers as a preferred walk-on.

So, when Wolf’s phone started blowing up soon after his name was entered into the NCAA transfer portal in January, he wasn’t annoyed by it. Actually, he kind of enjoyed it.

He especially enjoyed it when a number with a Georgia area code popped up one day soon after Wolf announced his intentions. Wolf didn’t recognize it at the time, but it belonged to Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

“Coach Smart was actually one of the first people to get a hold of me,” said Wolf, who added that most calls he received were not from the teams’ head coaches. “That was very humbling and awesome. A couple of weeks after that I was sure this was the place I was going to go.”

Now Wolf is firmly entrenched in Georgia’s preseason football camp, and likewise entrenched in the Bulldogs’ plans. He’s running second team at tight end, behind senior Charlie Woerner, and is expected to be heavily relied upon this season.

Georgia badly needed tight ends when it extended Wolf an offer, and that’s one reason it was an attractive destination for Wolf. The Bulldogs lost three tight ends off the 2018 offense. So, above all, Wolf knew he’d be utilized.

“Realistically, there was a position of need,” Wolf said. “Charlie and (John) FitzPatrick are both great tight ends. I felt like I could help the team along with those guys.”

Not that he wasn’t needed at Tennessee. Wolf was on the field a lot for the Vols, playing in 27 games and starting eight the past three seasons. But he caught just nine passes for 86 yards with one touchdown.

Wolf expects to see the ball in the air a little more at Georgia. Regardless, with only three tight ends ready to go at this point, and special teams opportunities as well, there will be plenty of opportunities for all.

“He’s a baller. He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s quick,” FitzPatrick said. “It’s just exciting to be next to two veterans like Eli and Charlie.”

One of the drawbacks of being up on Rocky Top the past four years has been turnover. Wolf said he played for three different offensive coordinators in that time.

The upside is Wolf said he’s adept at learning new systems.

“There was a bit of a coaching carousel there for a while at Tennessee,” Wolf said with a smile. “So, I have been through some a lot of coordinators. But all of them were great, and along through the process I learned how to adjust on the fly. So I know this is a transition I’m capable of doing.”

He played for Mike DeBord, Larry Scott and Todd Helton while with the Vols. He would’ve been with a fourth coordinator in Jim Chaney this season. Wolf said he never talked to Chaney, who arrived from Georgia shortly before his departure.

Wolf admitted that all the red-and-black was a bit unsettling when he first arrived in Athens. Not only was Georgia a team he had been trained to beat — Tennessee beat the Bulldogs on a Hail Mary in 2016 — but Wolf’s older brother Ethan also played tight end for the Vols. So the rivalry goes back a ways in his family.

But since officially joining the team in the summer and working out daily, the strangeness has subsided.

“There was definitely adjustment,” Wolf said of getting used to all the UGA regalia. “And there was a learning curve at the beginning. But Georgia has made it a smooth transition for me and has made it pretty easy on me.”

Wolf assures one and all that he is a fully, dyed-in-wool Bulldog for the season.

How will he feel when Georgia visits Neyland Stadium on Oct. 5 is the obvious question. Frankly, Wolf doesn’t know.

“I can’t really tell you until it happens,” he said. “I’m not too focused on that right now. I’m focused on Vanderbilt, the first game.”

Now pursuing a graduate degree in sport management, Wolf said he definitely feels at home at Georgia now.

“Georgia was the best fit for me,” he said.

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