KINGSPORT, Tenn. — Five months ago, Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings appeared to be at a crossroads in his football career when he appeared in court on a misdemeanor drug charge.
Would Jennings continue down a path of embarrassing his team, or would the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native take responsibility and become a leader in the receivers’ room?
A very quiet summer has coach Butch Jones believing Jennings chose the latter.
“I’ve been very, very encouraged and excited about the summer he’s had,” Jones said at the Big Orange Caravan stop at the Kingsport Farmer’s Market last week. “I know he wants that role and wants that opportunity. He’s a great competitor and he wants the football in his hands.”
Jennings caught 40 passes last season for 580 yards and 7 touchdowns.
The 6-foot-3 wide receiver made winning plays when the Vols needed them most.
Jennings made the 43-yard Hail Mary catch as time expired to defeat Georgia, 34-31.
Jennings beat Florida defensive back Jalen Tabor in coverage to score the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown in a cathartic 38-28 win.
These plays helped catapult Jennings into Tennessee folklore.
Jennings needs become a consistent No. 1 option for the Vols this season, and Jones is confident he will do just that.
“I do,” Jones said. “I think Jauan is a football player and a very good football player. He’s had a very good offseason. His body is completely different and we’ve spoken to him about doing the things great football players do. Obviously, in the weight room and nutrition and rest and all that goes into being a great football player.”
The process already has begun with Jennings making gains in the summer. The junior weighs 209 pounds now compared to 205 in the spring.
“It’s been a very, very productive offseason for us, probably the most competitive offseason that we’ve had,” Jones said at SEC Media Days. “And a lot of that is attributed to our players, to our leadership, but also to the addition of Rock Gullickson in the strength and conditioning area. And Rock has been a 17-year veteran in the National Football League and has really kind of changed the dynamics in that room, along with the entire strength and conditioning staff.”
Tennessee needs Jennings to be a leader on the team this fall. His quiet summer might just mean he has realized that.