The Tennessee Vols’ final home game of the season will take place on Saturday evening against Vanderbilt, which means it’s the final time the program’s seniors will run through the T at Neyland Stadium.
For the non-transfer seniors, it will be the end of a collegiate career that’s been incredibly unique.
The majority of Tennessee’s seniors arrived in Knoxville in 2016. The seniors who redshirted, such as wide receiver Jauan Jennings and linebacker Darrell Taylor, arrived in 2015.
But regardless of whether they arrived in 2015 or 2016, the Vols’ seniors arrived on Rocky Top in the midst of some good times. The 2015 and 2016 seasons are the best years the Vols have had in the last decade. The pair of nine win seasons featured some incredible moments — the wins against Florida and Georgia, the home overtime loss against Oklahoma (a painful moment for UT, but maybe the loudest crowd ever at Neyland), the bowl game blowouts, etc.
Those seasons were supposed to be the beginning of a new era for the Vols. It was supposed to be the start of Tennessee’s return to glory.
In 2017, however, it all came crashing down. The Vols hit their lowest point in program history. No Vol team had ever lost eight games in a season. By the end of 2017, Tennessee’s football program was a complete disaster. There was no light at the end of the tunnel — especially as the program endured a bizarre coaching search that included a botched hire and a fired athletic director.
Tennessee went through a lot of change in 2018. Jeremy Pruitt was hired as the program’s head coach and he implemented a brand new culture. It was different than what UT’s players experienced under Butch Jones. There was more accountability and structure.
In 2019, the Vols’ season started with disaster once again. Tennessee lost as a heavy favorite to Georgia State and it looked like the Vols’ seniors would experience another historic low point.
Of course, the ship was eventually righted and Tennessee now has a chance for an improbable eight win season.
The Vols’ seniors, who were supposed to be the class that competed for a national championship, are instead the class who is helping Tennessee get to a championship level in the future.
UT’s seniors, full of wisdom by now, have been a guiding force for the young players on the roster who were signed by Pruitt.
True freshman linebacker Henry To’o To’o, an exciting young player with an incredibly bright future, told reporters this week that he’s never been around a group of men like Tennessee’s seniors.
“I’ve never been around men that expect the best out of everybody every single day, no matter what we’re doing, where we’re at”, said To’o To’o on Tuesday.
“Even off the field, on the streets, or just doing something, the seniors would be watching out and making sure that we’re all on track”.
It’s obvious that Tennessee’s seniors have had a major impact on the program.
But the program has also had a major impact on Tennessee’s seniors.
Jauan Jennings was asked about his final home game as a Vol and he mentioned how thankful he is for everything that UT’s done for him, saying “it’s just a lot of gratitude to this city and to this program”.
Jennings also mentioned the impact the fans have had on him.
“The fans, there’s nothing like them anywhere else in this country, so I’m definitely going to miss it.”
I have a feeling that sentiment goes both ways.
The 2019 seniors never saw a ten win season, but they’ve been a special part of a program that’s seen its share of ups and downs in recent years.
And if not for those seniors, the program wouldn’t be on the upward trajectory it’s on today.
Featured image via Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports