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Jeremy Pruitt talks about why he let Jauan Jennings return in 2017

Strong comments.

South Carolina v Tennessee Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Remember that time Brady Hoke kicked Jauan Jennings out of the Tennessee football program? That seems like a decade ago at this point.

Jennings was dealing with an injury throughout the 2017 season. Apparently Jennings was nearing a return for the final game of the season against Vanderbilt, but wasn’t allowed to play. An Instagram live video featured Jennings calling out the staff for lying, among other things.

Hoke, the interim coach after Butch Jones was fired, went on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, announcing that he had kicked Jennings off of the team.

After the coaching search, Jeremy Pruitt and new athletic director Phillip Fulmer left the door open for a return. A couple of weeks later, Pruitt announced that Jennings had rejoined the team.

Fast-forward 21 months and Jauan might just be Tennessee’s most important player. Finally healthy, Jennings has been dynamic for Tennessee, even playing in an offense that has struggled throughout the year. Against South Carolina, Jennings let out some frustration. He caught seven passes for 174 yards and two scores, powering Tennessee to a 20 point win over the Gamecocks.

“I didn’t know anything about Jauan Jennings,” Jeremy Pruitt said on Monday. “I knew him as an opposing player on another team. When I got the job, there was some details about what all happened here. I asked a lot of people in the building what they thought, and most of them that said, ‘I wouldn’t let him come back.’ They don’t work here anymore. The people that said let him come back, they all work here.”

Jennings hasn’t had a single problem since returning to the program. He didn’t make a huge impact last year, but probably wasn’t totally healthy either. This year, Jauan is back to being Jauan, probably greatly improving his NFL stock in the process.

“When you start talking to the players that played on the team, the Trey Smiths, the Daniel Bitulis, and they say, ‘No, Coach, we want this guy on our team,’ Pruitt said. “I knew enough about those guys in recruiting to know that they knew what was right and what was wrong, and then we gave him an opportunity.”

Jennings had an opportunity to move on to the NFL after last year, but ultimately chose to return. Quite honestly, it’s scary to think about where Tennessee would be without him in this offense.

Jauan has four games left in his Tennessee career — maybe five. That senior day moment against Vanderbilt in a few weeks will be a tough one to watch.