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VOL. 43 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 23, 2019

Reinvigorated Jennings brings 'alpha male' to season

By Rhiannon Potkey

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UT wide receiver Jauan Jennings breaks away from Alabama defensive back Xavier McKinney in a file photo. Jennings is confident that this season, his last, will be his best.  

-- Photograph Provided By Tennessee Athletics

If there was any doubt about Jauan Jennings’ status within the Tennessee football program, he quickly put it to rest.

Asked last week if he was the alpha male of the wide receivers, the redshirt senior responded: “I’m the alpha male anywhere I go.”

It’s that kind of swagger that has endeared Jennings to Tennessee fans and perturbed opposing defensive backs.

As Jennings approaches his final season at UT, the Vols are hoping to have the talented playmaker on the field for the duration.

He enters the season as Tennessee’s active leader in receptions (87), receiving yards (1,184) and touchdown receptions (10).

The Murfreesboro native has endured an up-and-down college career marked by injuries, brilliant plays and off-the-field drama.

After a breakout season in 2016, Jennings missed the final 11 games of the 2017 with an injured wrist and received a medical redshirt.

He unleashed a profanity-laced social media tirade regarding the former UT coaching staff and was dismissed from the team.

Jennings met with new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt and athletics director Phillip Fulmer after Pruitt was hired and was allowed to return.

He battled nagging injuries last season, and still finished second on the team in receptions (30) and third in receiving yards (438) and tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (3).

The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Jennings had a minor procedure performed on his knee this summer, and entered fall camp with a healthier outlook.

“I feel good. Way better since surgery. I am feeling a whole lot better,” Jennings says. “I am out there running really good. My knees feel better and I am just ready for the season.”

Jennings has no interest in the UT coaches managing his reps during practice to save his body from wear and tear. That’s not his style.

“I’m definitely not going to take that,” he points out. “Me personally, I can’t go out there and watch my brothers grind the way they do and not be involved. There’s no way I can do that.”

A healthy Jennings would be a huge boost for Tennessee’s offense. The Blackman High graduate has the potential to be one of the top receivers in the nation, and has showcased his big-play ability in clutch moments for the Vols.

New UT wide receivers coach Tee Martin has noticed a more mature approach from Jennings in the last few months.

“He’s turning the corner and it’s something he focused on in spring,” Martin says. “He was one of those receivers that really wanted to get the ball and was a little emotional at times.

“You saw him really grow toward that at the end of spring and went hard on every play. We are going to need him to do that. We are going to need to move him around because he is one of our best guys.”

Martin says Jennings has embraced a leadership role, and he has been an asset to the younger UT receivers.

“He has had a really positive attitude and has taken Ramel (Keyton) under his wing a little bit in the summer and they have gotten closer,” Martin adds. “Jauan has changed a little bit for the positive. He’s doing everything that we are asking him to do. It’s his last year and I think he understands the importance of him having a good season.”

Martin is the fourth wide receivers coach Jennings has played for since joining the Vols. Jennings has enjoyed learning from the former UT star.

“He coaches us hard. He makes sure we are doing what we are supposed to do,” Jennings says.

“He wants to make plays and that is something he stresses in the room. That is what wideouts do. That is what we are going to continue to do.”

Knowing what Martin accomplished as a player at UT has incentivized the Vols.

“Definitely. Every day you cannot go by without looking at his face and see a quarterback that went perfect with a national championship,” Jennings says.

“I still have not seen the championship ring, but I have not bothered him about it because we are out there working every day.”

Although it would be natural to assume Jennings has a greater comfort level with Pruitt entering their second season together, he doesn’t view it that way.

“I’m even more uncomfortable. You can’t ever be comfortable. Being satisfied is a downfall, and having coach Pruitt here a second year makes me even more hungry,” Jennings points out. “I know what he expects as a coach. This whole coaching staff is nothing but winners and we need that mentality to carry through the entire team. I can’t wait to see how this season is going to go.”

After all he’s been through at UT, Jennings isn’t taking his senior season for granted. He knows his college career could have ended earlier, and doesn’t want to waste his final opportunity to represent the Vols.

“It hit me the first day of spring ball. I definitely feel it,” Jennings adds. “It feels good to be out here with my teammates, me watching them grow as they watch me grow.”

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