KNOXVILLE — Every time Jarrett Guarantano took a snap it hurt. Every time Guarantano got hit it hurt a little more. Every time he tried to grip the football he struggled.
Playing with a cast is not an ideal situation for a quarterback, especially on a cold November night, but there was no way Tennessee’s once-praised, now-admonished fourth-year junior signal caller was going to leave his teammates in a bad spot.
With Brian Maurer behind held out because of a concussion and J.T. Shrout making a potentially-critical mistake on the Vols’ first possession, Guarantano was quickly thrust into action during Saturday’s win over UAB — one week after suffering a broken left (non-throwing) hand in a win over South Carolina.
It was not an especially pretty performance, but on a night when Tennessee needed Guarantano to be good enough to win, he was exactly that. To him, it didn’t matter how much pain he was in.
“I owe it to my teammates,” Guarantano said following a 13-for-21 performance that featured a bad interception and a game-clinching touchdown. “I don’t like how I started off the season, honestly. That’s just tough having the team lose.
“My teammates deserve this from me, and if I’m able to help them out in anyway I think I should. That’s really the main point. Guys are saying, ‘Just chill out this week,’ or ‘Wait until you rehab.’ I couldn’t do it.”
Guarantano had surgery on Sunday, Oct. 27, and didn’t practice until Wednesday. Even then he took limited reps. After Saturday’s game he described the pain as constant, added that it was ‘kind of numb where the big scar is’ and that he is starting to get the feeling back in his fingers.
He is wearing a cast that looks like a long glove at the end and has fingers cut out. He cannot lower his left hand so it always looks like he is awkwardly holding it up.
Joking that on a scale from 1-10, his father would tell him to say the pain is a 3 and his mom would tell him to say it was an 11, Guarantano said he would settle for a number in between those.
“It’s a testament to who he is, as a player and a person,” offensive lineman Trey Smith said. “He’s not letting it stop him at all. That hurts. There’s no other way to put it. He’s taking all these snaps and all these hits and he keeps going.”
The season began with Guarantano as the unquestioned starter for the first time, but it took a sharp downturn when the Vols lost to Georgia State. Guarantano’s stock continued to plummet over the next two games before hitting a new low in the first half against Florida.
Maurer started the second half against the Gators and was named the Vols’ new starter the next week against Georiga. When Maurer got injured against Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama, Guarantano was first off the bench.
The goal-line fumble in Tuscaloosa seemed to be the breaking point for coach Jeremy Pruitt, who gave the starting job to Shrout against South Carolina and again against UAB.
Guarantano has been adequate to good since the Alabama debacle, and after Saturday night’s victory he seemed relieved to get an opportunity to talk about the support he has had from inside Tennessee’s walls through the trials and tribulations of what has been his most difficult season.
“I love my teammates, really,” Guarantano said. “They’ve battled for me, and I’ve battled for them many times. It really means a lot to me, for the coaches also, to keep their faith in me. We had some rough patches at the beginning of the year, but I think we’re really starting to pick it up.
“Even going through this injury I knew there wasn’t an option for me to sit down because these guys have had so much faith in me and gave me so much love over the course of time that I couldn’t do that to them.”