Shortly after the conclusion of the 2020 season, Tennessee Vols tight end Austin Pope gave an interview to The Athletic’s David Ubben that was quite revealing.

In the interview, Pope, who was in the transfer portal at the time (he then returned to Tennessee, but recently retired from football due to injuries), pointed out one of the major issues with Vols in 2020.

“I think some people in the program lack that mindset (excelling at a high level), as to how hard they’re motivated in terms of why they’re here,” said Pope.

“Like running through the T is just enough for them. Or putting a jersey on and taking a picture after the game after we get our eyes beat in by Alabama, that’s cool.”

Pope was essentially saying that some players weren’t invested at Tennessee. They didn’t care about the wins or losses, only about the experience.

Under new Vols head coach Josh Heupel, that mindset is changing.

“Our kids clearly understand what the expectations are on and off the field here — what a Tennessee Volunteer looks like,” said Heupel on Thursday during an appearance on 104.5 The Zone’s J-Mart and Ramon. “They’ve really started to rally around that. Inside of the locker room, I think there’s some ownership of it. Some peer pressure to do things the right way.”

When the mindset inside the locker room changes, that’s when the product on the field will change.

Heupel is promoting a culture of accountability that begins with the players. Now, instead of players like Pope noticing that other players aren’t “all in” and not immediately addressing it, there’s peer pressure from teammates to handle their business the right way.

That’s a characteristic that’s a must for any successful program. And it’s the first step in the right direction for Tennessee football in the Josh Heupel era.

Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services/Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services