When I last sat down with LaTrell Bumphus he was preparing to head to Knoxville to begin his football career at UT as a Volunteer. LaTrell came to The Courier last week for another sit down to help all of his area fans catch up on how things went for him at Tennessee and what he has been up to since completing his Volunteer career.
LaTrell was one of only four 2017 signees that stuck it out at UT after dozens of teammates left via the transfer portal. The pride of Hardin County made the decision to stay at his dream school and to help build the Big Orange back into a championship contender.
“When I arrived on campus in May of 2017 I was playing as a tight end and was about 225 pounds compared to being a defensive tackle and weighing about 275 now,” said LaTrell. “Playing football at Hardin County was good preparation for me. Coach Smith playing in college helps out and we did things the right way as far as watching film and game preparation and having a very good offseason program.
“Coach Butch Jones was the coach during my freshman year and I was mainly playing some on special teams. I was having to adjust to the speed of life in my new situation and it took me a while. I went to summer school that summer and it really helped me to get adjusted to my new lifestyle by the time fall rolled around. You have to find time for life, school work and your sport. You have to use your time wisely, if you get behind the day will pass you by. A lot of the guys thought that the world would do things on their time but it does not. You must adapt as quickly as possible and become an adult pretty fast.
“Toward the end of the season Coach Jones got fired. There was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen. In December, Jeremy Pruitt was named the new head coach. With the new coaching staff coming on board things in the offseason program got a lot harder as far as the way we worked.
“Suddenly I had to find my ‘Why?’ Why was I at Tennessee? Why was I playing football? What did I want out of life? I spent some time thinking about those things and did some self reflection that helped. What really got me through the hard time was talking to my teammates, we all leaned on one another and I made the decision to keep going.
“Well, I began getting a little more playing time at tight dnd the next season and also some time on special teams. We had another disappointing season and did not make a bowl game. During exit meetings, Coach Pruitt asked me if I would like to move to the defensive line. I thought it was best for my future and Coach Pruitt thought so as well so it was a pretty easy decision to agree to make the move.
“So as we started my third season at UT I found myself on the defensive line. I recorded my very first college sack against BYU and future New York Jet QB Zach Wilson. I ended up with two sacks in the game in what was sort of my coming-out party. We had a pretty good season and went to the Gator Bowl and defeated Indiana on the second day of January in 2020 to get the year off to a great start. It was very exciting and a big stepping stone-my first bowl game.
“We moved into the offseason, and were having a great offseason. Then in the spring, Covid hit with a vengeance. We practiced one more day, then they sent us home until we came back in June. Our season got pushed back and we had a lot of things to deal with. Then I suffered a right knee injury against Arkansas. I ended up having to have surgery and missed the second half of the season. That would have been the end of my football career at Tennessee but the NCAA granted all the players another year of eligibility which was huge for me as it gave me another season to get healthy and work hard to get better and stronger.
“Coach Pruitt then got fired and a lot of us older players were suddenly trying to figure out what we were going to do with ourselves. We were looking at having our third coach within a four-year period. Well, Coach Josh Heupel got hired and we all got pretty excited. He was a big-time player in college himself and had some success at all the places he had coached before coming to Knoxville. He brought a ton of energy and is very genuine. He is all about working hard but also about making things fun. We had a lot of special team-building events that sort of brings out the kid in you. That has made a huge difference in morale and closeness of the team.
“Things started well and we started winning some games. My defensive line coach, Rodney Garner, came to me and talked to me and asked me what I thought about red-shirting the rest of the season. He told me he thought it would help me to reach my full potential and give me a better chance to get to the National Football League. I thought about it a couple of weeks and decided I agreed with him so I did not play in games during the rest of that season. We won some games and played Purdue in the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
“Everyone in the locker room was more excited about the future than I had ever seen them. Winning made it easier for everyone to buy in to what the coaches were telling us. It was just a different kind of feeling heading into the offseason as I prepared to start my sixth season as a Volunteer with Coach Heupel at the helm in 2022.
“We had a really good spring and summer and the team continued to get better and better. We picked up a big win early in the season over Pitt that got us going. Next up we beat Florida for the first time since 2016. Pretty soon it was time to face our biggest rival in Alabama at home. Both teams were undefeated and we went into the game truly expecting to win despite how things had been going in the game for several years. But you never can know for sure how things will go. The way the game ended with us coming from behind to tie the game, then to win it on a last-second field goal, It was kind of like being in a dream that continued all night long with the crowd staying in the stadium, they were amazing.
“Later we suffered our first loss of the season at top-ranked Georgia. Our team was still in high spirits even with the loss as we learned lessons from our mistakes in the game. Later we went to South Carolina and lost again. Everyone was really hurt by that game, a lot was on the line as far as the playoffs and the National Championship. It almost felt like we had lost everything we had worked for. We were able to shake it off and bounce back to thump Vanderbilt 56-0 in our final game of the season.
“We were excited to get in a New Years Six bowl game in the Orange Bowl to take on Clemson. We played well and beat them pretty good to cap off the season and finish with a record of 11-2 in my final game as a Tennessee Volunteer and gave our team a Top Ten finish for the first time since 2001.
“I guess the low point of my time at Tennessee came in my freshman year when we failed to win a single SEC game; that was definitely a punch in the gut and a reality check. There is no doubt that the high point was winning the Alabama game in 2022. Being a Tennessee guy and knowing the history of the game. Finally being able to beat them after all the years was incredible and I feel like it kind of got us over the hump for the future.
“I was very happy as we ended my final season the right way. Looking back at it let me know that I had made the right decision about red-shirting. After our Bowl game trip was over I shifted my focus to getting myself prepared for the 2023 NFL draft. I got myself an agent and I soon got invited out to Los Angeles to play in the NFLPA Bowl. I played pretty well out there in front of a bunch of scouts. I also continued to train for our UT Pro Day. When that big day came I was proud of the performance I put together in front of a lot of coaches and scouts. Then I just waited to see what happened in the Draft.
“Three days of the draft went by and I did not get my name called, which was not a big surprise since I was not really expecting to get drafted. The next morning I got up early and went turkey hunting. I got back home about 8 a.m. The New York Giants called and invited me to their rookie mini camp. The following week I flew to New York for the camp. I got some good feedback during the camp, but I did not make the team. The following week the Seattle Seahawks called and wanted me to come out there for a workout. I was soon on a plane out to Seattle and I did pretty well in the workout. The next day they signed me to a three-year contract as a defensive tackle. The Seahawks said they liked me because they like players that are young and cheap, lol. I liked my position coaches and Head Coach Pete Carroll has a lot of energy and is very respected. There was a very positive environment around the team and lots of excitement.
“I jumped right in and joined them in the OTAs. A few days later I suffered an injury and was informed I would be placed on injured reserve and miss the 2023 NFL football season. As of today I am walking and rehabbing and training to be in tip-top shape for the 2024 season.
“I still have lots of goals I want to accomplish, but I am very proud of getting to this point in my career. I’m very blessed to be in the 1.5% of college football players that are able to reach their dream of getting to the NFL as a professional football player. Hopefully I will play long enough to be blessed and be able to retire and travel. I also want to get into some sales opportunities, get some cattle to raise, and find some things to invest in.
“I have been glad to be able to have some time back home in Hardin County as I began to recuperate and rehab from my injury. It is good to see people are proud for me. One of the most exciting things for me is getting to see young kids that are fans of mine. I like to speak to them and get a chance to talk with them and have my picture taken with them, it makes their day. Hopefully they can see my story and realize that they come from the same place I did and that they can make it too and do whatever they want to in life.
“I am so thankful for everyone that has been with me along the way. I appreciate all of the support and I look forward to what the future holds.”
(Ed note: This story was first published in the Aug. 17 print edition.)