The Tennessee Vols received some great news on Thursday with wide receiver Cedric Tillman’s announcement that he’s returning to UT for his final season of eligibility.

Tillman signed with the Vols during the 2018 recruiting cycle. The Nevada native, however, didn’t contribute much to the offense during his first three seasons on Rocky Top.

During his three seasons under previous UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt, Tillman caught only eight passes.

In his first season under new Vols head coach Josh Heupel, Tillman caught 57 passes for 931 yards and nine touchdowns.

Tillman’s decision to return to Tennessee is obviously big for the Vols’ offense. The former three-star recruit will be the top option in the passing game — especially with Velus Jones Jr and Javonta Payton moving on (due to no eligibility left).

Cedric Tillman’s return to Tennessee confirms what we already knew about Josh Heupel

When Josh Heupel was hired as the head coach at Tennessee, he made changing the culture a priority.

“There’s got to be a sense of belonging, a sense of brotherhood that has to reside in that locker room,” said Heupel during his introductory press conference earlier this year.

New coaches usually talk about changing the culture. Heupel, however, has proved this season that his statement about a “sense of belonging” in the locker room wasn’t just lip service.

Multiple players throughout the last several months have talked about the improved culture under Heupel.

“It’s a true family experience here, it’s a true brotherhood,” said defensive lineman Omari Thomas earlier this week. “You’re going to get coached up hard but they’re going to love you even harder.”

Words are one thing. Actions are what’s really important.

And the actions of Tennessee’s players — including Tillman — show that the culture change at Tennessee is legitimate.

Players want to stay at UT and continue playing under Heupel. Quarterback Hendon Hooker could’ve gone to the NFL after this season. But he decided to come back for another season. Other players could’ve hit the transfer portal, but so far, the Vols haven’t lost any players to the transfer portal since the end of the season (some will likely enter the portal after the Vols’ bowl game, but every program is going to deal with a few players leaving thanks to the new reality of the portal and college football).

Wide receiver Javonta Payton is out of eligibility, but he told Hooker that he wishes he could return to Tennessee for one more season. It just seems like no one is eager to leave Knoxville these days.

Tillman’s decision to return is just further proof that Heupel has built a culture that players appreciate.

(And for another example, offensive coordinator Alex Golesh was offered the offensive coordinator job at Ole Miss recently by Lane Kiffin and he turned it down.)

The fact that Heupel has been able to build this type of culture in less than a year — especially after Pruitt left behind a “toxic” culture — is beyond impressive. It’s something that didn’t seem possible this fast.

I guess UT athletic director Danny White knew what he was doing when he hired Heupel.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports