Montori Hughes arrived as a raw product with untapped potential.
He's leaving Tennessee in almost the same state.
A lightly recruited but physically impressive defensive tackle out of Murfreesboro, the 6-foot-4, 327-pound Hughes arrived in 2009 and looked like a potential stalwart in the middle of the line for the Vols in the future. But that flickering possibility was definitively extinguished on Thursday when UT confirmed he was no longer part of the program without an official reason provided by coach Derek Dooley.
Hughes has had issues related to his academics over his two seasons with the Vols, problems that led to a suspension for the regular-season finale last year against Kentucky and another "violation of team rules" that kept him out of the first two practices of spring camp in March. Off the field, Hughes was also present during the brawl at Bar Knoxville in July of last year and retained a lawyer, though charges were never brought against him.
But regardless of the circumstances, moving forward without one of its biggest tackles will be another challenge for a UT defense already short on depth in the middle.
Hughes left spring practice as a backup on the two-deep behind converted offensive lineman Daniel Hood and talented junior-college transfer Maurice Couch is also expected to play a prominent role up front, so the Vols aren't losing a player expected to be a factor in the starting lineup. But despite dealing with injuries throughout his sophomore campaign, Hughes did post 37 tackles with a sack and 5.5 takedowns for a loss during his two seasons with UT, which can still use as many large, productive bodies as it can find.
"I do (think it's big), because we're so thin and unproductive at defensive tackle," Dooley said after suspending Hughes before the Kentucky game last fall. "Anybody we lose there, it hurts the team - there's no question.
"But we have an academic accountability system that they understand and they know the consequences. I've told them, it's the same old line that everybody can do what they want. Everybody has freedom of choice, but nobody has freedom of consequence and at some point, you can't play."
Hughes reached that point again Thursday, but he won't be getting another chance to play at UT this time.
Austin Ward covers Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Vols_Beat and http://blogs.knoxnews.com/ward.