One of the Tennessee Vols‘ biggest pickups before the 2021 season was wide receiver JaVonta Payton.

Payton, a Nashville native, transferred to Tennessee from Mississippi State after the Volunteers hired Josh Heupel to replace Jeremy Pruitt as the program’s head coach.

And he was a huge addition for Tennessee.

Payton only caught 16 passes for the Vols in 2021, but he made his receptions count.

Six of Payton’s 16 catches went for touchdowns, including a 75-yard touchdown reception against Kentucky on the first play of the game.

Unfortunately for the Vols, Payton is out of eligibility after spending time at Northwest Mississippi Community College and Mississippi State.

But he wishes that wasn’t the case.

Earlier this week, quarterback Hendon Hooker explained his decision to return to Tennessee for his final season of eligibility.

Hooker revealed that he talked to Payton extensively while trying to make a decision.

And Payton told Hooker that he wished he could come back to Tennessee for one more season.

“He (Payton) was asking me what am I thinking and he was like man, I wish I could redshirt and come back another year,” said Hooker this week.

There’s no doubt that Heupel and the Vols would love to have Payton back.

Ultimately, this just shows the amazing culture that Heupel and his staff have built over the last 11 months. Players aren’t in a hurry to leave Tennessee. They enjoy playing for Heupel and it seems they don’t want their time on Rocky Top to end.

Not only is that a good thing for the current state of the program, but it’s also a good thing for recruiting.

Recruits are going to see the vibe at Tennessee and want to be part of it.

Maybe that’s why the Vols were able to pull in an unexpected top 15 recruiting class this week.

Featured image via Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports