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Jeremy Pruitt reflects on his 2019 senior class

Saturday will be tough.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s 2019 senior class has been through it, haven’t they? From the highs of 2016 as Tennessee entered the top ten in the polls after a 5-0 start to the lows of dropping three straight to Vanderbilt, and suffering through one of the more embarrassing coaching searches of all time — their time in Knoxville has been anything but dull.

Jeremy Pruitt inherited this team in 2017, left in shambles from the previous staff. It was a tall task for a guy who had never been a head coach before, but coming down the homestretch of year two, we’re seeing a pulse from this football program once again.

“I’m really proud of these guys,” Pruitt said on Monday, speaking of his seniors. “I’m excited for them. It’s been great to get to know them.”

Five seniors in particular have been catalysts for Tennessee’s turnaround this season. Jauan Jennings has been the engine that has driven the Volunteer offense lately, while Marquez Callaway has continued to do his thing — making spectacular, game-changing grabs on 50-50 balls.

Daniel Bituli has led the defense since returning from injury early in the year. Nigel Warrior has made some huge strides to become a difference maker at safety, while Darrell Taylor has steadily been Tennessee’s best pass rushing option off the edge.

“I knew Nigel Warrior from the recruiting process, I didn’t know Daniel Bituli. I didn’t know Darrell Taylor. Dominick Wood-Anderson, I had met recruiting. Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway — I knew Marquez a little bit. Just being around them for the last two years to really get to know who they really are and how much pride that they have in the University of Tennessee, and to see them fight and try to finish something that they started says a whole lot about them.”

Saturday will be a tough one for everyone involved, watching 14 guys run through the T for the final time. Jauan Jennings in particular. That’s a guy that didn’t give up on Tennessee, even through Brady Hoke and John Currie gave up on him. Jennings’ journey back into the program to one of the best players in the conference has been nothing short of remarkable. He’s been the beating heart of this team down the stretch and is going to be impossible to replace in 2020.

“These guys are going to have tons of success beyond the University,” Pruitt said. “It’s really what college football is all about — how these guys represent the University.”

It’s a shame that those guys weren’t able to play in a better era of Tennessee football, but they’ve laid the foundation for success — hopefully for years to come.

Bonus Senior

Tennessee will honor Darrin Kirkland Jr. on Saturday afternoon during senior day, allowing him to run through the T one final time. The former Tennessee linebacker was forced to retire during the offseason after multiple knee issues.