Vols' Antonio 'Tiny' Richardson will leave early for NFL

Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson (74) hugs head coach Butch Jones at the conclusion of the game against Kentucky Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. UT won their final game 27-14. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess

Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson (74) hugs head coach Butch Jones at the conclusion of the game against Kentucky Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. UT won their final game 27-14. (AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Tennessee junior offensive lineman Antonio "Tiny" Richardson will skip his final year of college eligibility to enter the NFL Draft.

"I have truly loved every moment of being a Tennessee Volunteer and will always be a Vol For Life," Richardson said in a statement released by UT on Friday. "As much as I have enjoyed my time at Tennessee, I have long dreamed of playing in the NFL and taking care of my family. After careful consideration, I have decided to forego my senior year and enter the 2014 NFL Draft."

"I am grateful to all of my Tennessee coaches and everyone in the football program who made my life easier, from trainers to tutors to our fans, who are the best in the country. I am ready for the next level and look forward to what I know will be an exciting challenge."

The Nashville native was a preseason All-SEC selection and has started the final 24 games of his college career.

Richardson's departure ensures that the Vols will have an entirely new starting offensive line in 2014. Four of the other starters on this year's squad were seniors.

"We appreciate Antonio's efforts and contributions to University of Tennessee football," Vols coach Butch Jones said in the release. "He will always be a Vol For Life and we wish him all the best as he looks to further his career in the National Football League."

The Vols rushed for 2,261 yards in 2013, the most since 2004.

"I think the world of him as a person and as a player as well," said Vols offensive line coach Don Mahoney last month.

Some draft experts project Richardson to be selected as high as the first round. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle took out an insurance policy before the 2013 season, a protection used by many top players.

One other junior on the Vols' roster could consider leaving early for the NFL. Linebacker A.J. Johnson said he will consult with family and coaches before making his decision.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 9

lonesome_dove writes:

Thank You for everything Antonio - we will always be proud that you chose Tennessee for your college career and you will be remembered as one of the all-time best and as a VFL.

Please come back to Knoxville as often as you can.
We'll be watching you on Sundays.

BradWhite writes:

Good luck. And remember, you can't move until the ball is snapped.

TNFaninFL writes:

No real surprise here... if he is projected as a first rounder then he would be foolish to stay. Besides, he didn't exactly light it up this year, lost count of the false start penalties he had. We move on, the O line underachieved this year, so maybe next year's line will work harder and not read their press clippings.

bobscleo#330846 writes:

crystal ball says fewer oline penalties next year

snowpeapod#263184 writes:

Sad for Vol fans but not unexpected. I am surprised that half the posts are negative. I'lltrade Tiny's paycheck next year for those two combined.

eepwlg writes:

Good Luck Tiny! We wish you all the success in the world!

pingkr62 writes:

I enjoyed Tiny's time at Tennessee and appreciate his contributions both on and off the field. Looking forward to team 118. Looks like a clean slate for the offense so the coaches can rebuild. Lots of new faces on both sides. I'm ready for 2014. G.B.O.!!!

atnvol#283282 writes:

see ya.

ORboy writes:

Tiny I hope the projections are right and you get drafted by a good team. Take care and remember there are a lot of Tennessee fans pulling for you.

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