KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Fans of the facial hair, rejoice – Tennessee Vols pitcher Kirby Connell announced his return to the squad on Monday.

“Just being able to be back with the program that I’ve been with my whole career and be able to work with them every single day – it’s going to be fun,” he told News Channel 11.

The Johnson City native had his sites set on the possibility of pro baseball after this spring, but his initial plans didn’t pan out.

“You can be upset, or you can use it as momentum into the next year,” he said.

That’s what the lefty plans to do – build on last season’s 15.1 innings of relief work. Connell finished the 2023 season with a 1-0 record and a 3.52 ERA, hurling 17 strikeouts in the process.

However, when it comes to improvement for the 2024 campaign, Connell is worried less about velocity and location, and more about the kind of example he can set for his teammates.

“Been here for four years,” he said. “I’ve been through the worst, I’ve been through the best. I’ve been number one. I’ve been not even ranked.”

“So it’s it’s definitely something, you know, just being able to be a leader and being able to be that guy that people can come up to and ask questions,” he continued. “You know, ‘Hey, what I need to do in this scenario. What I need to do in this.'”

As a group, Connell is optimistic about the results this pitching staff can have, but it will all boil down to hard work.

“I think this fall is really going to show us something,” he said. “Is this the same team that we were last year? Or are we even better?”

“I know we’ve got the talent to do it,” he continued. “But it’s just how do we want it when we go out there and play.”