KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Saturday will be a culmination of the 2019 regular season for Tennessee and for 13 Vols it will mark the time they play at Neyland Stadium.
While the game against Vanderbilt, which is set for a 4 p.m. ET start on the SEC Network, has all the build-up of an in-state rivalry, before the opening kick, Vol Nation will have a final chance to celebrate a decorated group of seniors.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt has charged Vols fans to show up to send off the touted group.
“I just want to ask everybody, I know it’s Thanksgiving weekend, but this group of seniors has really bought in to what we’re trying to get done here at Tennessee and we want to send them out the right way,” Pruitt said at his Wednesday presser. “I know we’ll do that. We’ve had a fantastic atmosphere the entire year with our fanbase.
“It’s the last home game for these 13 seniors and I can’t say enough good things about them and the way they’ve represented the university, this program, this team, themselves, their families.”
Senior Recognition to Begin 30 Minutes Before Kick
Tennessee will honor 13 seniors, who will get to run through the T one last time 25 minutes before the start of the game. Fans are asked to be in their seats by 3:30 p.m. to honor the senior class.
Vols to Honor Veterans with Salute to Service
The Vols will honor veterans for their military service throughout the game on Saturday. Select military personnel will lead the Vol Walk and there will be a Blackhawk helicopter flyover as well as in-game recognitions.
Tennessee Leading in the Classroom
Earlier in the week, four Vols were recognized for their accomplishments in the classroom. Redshirt senior Brandon Kennedy, junior Matthew Butler, redshirt junior Ryan Johnson and sophomore Paxton Brooks earned CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team honors.
UT’s four honorees is the most of any Power 5 school and is a program record. The Vols’ previous record was three All-District honorees in 2016.
Tennessee now has 32 all-time recipients of the honor, which has been recognized since at least 1956.
“It is a credit to Joe Scogin and everybody who works in our Thornton Center with academics,” Pruitt said. “They do an outstanding job. I said this earlier today, it is very competitive in the SEC on the field every Saturday and it is very competitive in the classroom here at the University of Tennessee. Last year’s incoming freshman class averaged 28 on the ACT, so it is competitive in the classroom and Joe and his guys do a phenomenal job of getting our guys prepared every day when they attended class.
“It says a lot for those four individuals that can apply it, can execute it and can go do it. It is also the most in all of college football this year.”
Jeremy Pruitt Presser (Nov. 27)
“We’ve had another really good week of practice here. Our guys continue to work hard to improve. We definitely, this past week, had a physical game, so we’ve got some guys that are banged up. It’s been a great opportunity for other guys to get more reps. They’ve done a nice job of that. It’s the last home game for these 13 seniors and I can’t say enough good things about them and the way they’ve represented the university, this program, this team, themselves, their families. We’ve had a fantastic atmosphere the entire year with our fanbase, from the Vol Walk, running through the T, the crowd experience has been great. I just want to ask everybody, I know it’s Thanksgiving weekend, but this group of seniors have really bought in to what we’re trying to get done here at Tennessee, we want to send them out the right way. I know we’ll do that.”
On what makes Tennessee’s wide receivers difficult to guard for opposing defenses:
“They’re big-bodied guys. They have a very large catch radius. They have really good ball judgment, so they high point the ball. They maximize their height and length. They have a lot of courage, so they’re going to catch the ball in traffic. They’re instinctive guys so they have a good feel of what the other team is trying to do to them, so these guys are tough to guard. We try to guard them every day. They catch a lot of contested balls. They’re also really good in the run game, so a lot of people take that for granted because you don’t really see that. They’re physical, tough guys. They’re complete players.”
On if he ever encouraged a medical trainer or staff member to resign or get fired:
“No, absolutely not. Our athletic staff has always reported to the athletic director.”
On if he has every influenced the training staff to rush a player back from injury:
“No. If you look at our athletic training staff starting with Dr. (Chris) Klenck, he does a phenomenal job. Jeronimo Boche, Dr. Matt Rappe – these guys have done a fantastic job. Over the course of the year, we’ve had a lot of guys banged up. We’ve probably had more injuries than most of the years I’ve been coaching. I think they’ve done a phenomenal job getting these guys well. We’ve had guys that’ve missed playing time this year. Look what they (the medical staff) did with Trey Smith. I think these guys are some of the best in the country.”
On what makes Ke’Shawn Vaughn such a tough runner:
“I don’t know Ke’Shawn personally, but I have a lot of respect for the way he plays. Guy is tough and runs hard, you have to tackle him, you are not going to butt him down. He finishes runs, he falls forward and he can run in-between tackles and he can run out on the perimeter. He is a great blocker in the pass game, he’s got good hands and is a guy that can score from anywhere on the field. I think he is one of the better players in this conference.”
On how the team continues to get better and continues to work:
“Everybody has a choice every single day when you get out of bed and put your feet on the floor. What are you going to do with today? It is the same way when you go out there on the field, you have a choice. You’re either going to get better or you’re going to get worse. Most of that is a mindset, if you have the right mindset when you hit the grass, you have an opportunity to maximize your potential. I feel like that is one of the things this team has continued to work hard to do. Sometimes when you have some personalities that we have on our team, it is contagious, and I think it has been that way the entire year.”
On Brandon Kennedy coming back for a sixth year and Darrin Kirkland Jr.:
“First of all, about getting the sixth year, I know absolutely nothing about that part. That is through the athletic training staff and compliance. With Darrin Kirkland running through the T, we decided this last January when Darrin decided that he was going to retire from football. That was one of the things that he and his family really wanted to do because they have so much pride in the University of Tennessee. Darrin was a phenomenal representative. He was a really good player and I think he graduated with a 3.2 GPA. He feels a part of this team, he has come back and seen us two or three times already this year.”
On the four guys being named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District Team:
“We had four guys, Brandon Kennedy, Ryan Johnson, Matt Butler and Paxton Brooks. It is a credit to Joe Scogin and everybody who works in our Thornton Center with academics. They do an outstanding job. I said this earlier today, it is very competitive in the SEC on the field every Saturday and it is very competitive in the classroom here at the University of Tennessee. Last year’s incoming freshman class averaged 28 on the ACT, so it is competitive in the classroom and Joe and his guys do a phenomenal job of getting our guys prepared every day when they attended class. It says a lot for those four individuals that can apply it, can execute it and can go do it. It is also the most in all of college football this year.
On the affect Jarrett Guarantano has had on the guys around him:
“The players on our team, they respect Jarrett. He’s a really tough guy. He’s taken a lot of hits over his career. We’ve done an outstanding job protecting him as this year has went. But, it’s a great lesson for everybody that not only in sports, but just in life. Things didn’t go the way that we wanted them to go, they didn’t go the way Jarrett wanted them to go, (so) we decided to make a change and he bought into the change. He tried to help the other quarterbacks be the best that they possibly can be, he continued to work on the things he needed to work on and to prepare so that if he ever got another shot, he would have a chance to be at his best. It’s a great lesson for all of us and everybody in our program respects Jarrett for what he has done, and I know he wants to be able to finish this year the right way.”
On why Jarrett’s decision making and accuracy have improved late in the season:
“I don’t know that the decision making and accuracy is really comparable. We go a lot on clean plays, so he’s been a little cleaner here in the last month of the season. Why is that? I think it’s been hard work, probably a little better understanding. Maybe we took a little too much for granted at the beginning of the year. Jarrett is a very bright guy and he picked up this system really fast and we had a lot of confidence in him, but you know it’s still his first year in this system. He’s learned, we’ve learned as coaches and we’ve all improved because of it.”
On what clean play means for a quarterback:
“The first thing is, there’s a lot on our quarterback in our system. So, No. 1, he’s got to make sure that all 10 guys know what to do. He’s got to be the extension of the coaching staff, he’s got to understand the situations, he’s got to be able to remind them if there’s anything pre-snap that they need to know about the situation, he’s got to have a great understanding of what the other team is trying to do to keep us in a positive play. And then when the ball is turned over, there’s lots of bullets flying out there and he’s got to have poise and confidence in himself and the people around him so he’s able to execute.”
On if he remembers his senior day and his message for the 13 seniors being honored on Saturday:
“To start with, about my senior day, that’s been so long ago, I don’t remember a whole lot about it. But, for these 13 guys, I think this is a close group of guys. I said it the other day after the ball game, it’s been really something to watch and experience how our team has really come together. We have a very close team. They pull for each other, they coach each other, they compete hard against each other. It’s been a real fun year. It’s been one of the funnest years I’ve experienced in all of coaching with this group of guys. I’ll never forget them.”
On if plans are a little different this week with Thanksgiving on Thursday:
“Yeah, we’ll go at 8:30 in the morning (on Thursday), so if there’s local guys who can get him within an hour or two hours and they want to take somebody with them (they can). Every coach will have his group over at their house if they’re not going somewhere, and tomorrow night I’ll have everybody else. I’ve said before, this is one of my, probably is my favorite holiday. It’s always fun to play football on Thanksgiving. You know I started off as a high school coach and if you were playing on Thanksgiving it meant you were having a pretty good year. It’s a special time and it’s something that we all need to reflect on and look and appreciate the things and the opportunities that have been given to us and be thankful for them.”