KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — While Danny O’Brien’s dismissal shocked the college football world Monday afternoon, it caught Tennessee’s players off guard, too.
O’Brien, a senior defensive tackle, was kicked off the team for “violation of team rules” less than 48 hours after being carted off the field at Texas A&M.
Junior safety Todd Kelly Jr. first saw the report on social media, saying he was “perplexed.” Senior quarterback Josh Dobbs called the news “sudden.”
O’Brien started 19 games during his Tennessee career, including all six games in 2016. He was a veteran presence in the Volunteers locker room and a universally beloved teammate.
“Danny is a great guy. The years I got to spend with him were amazing,” Kelly said Tuesday.
“He was a great mentor for me. I really had no clue. I saw on social media. That’s how I found out. I wasn’t really sure what went down. I know his phone was blowing up probably, so I didn’t text him or ask what happened or anything like that. I was kind of perplexed when I heard the news.
“But we’re really going to miss Danny. He was a great attribute to our team. At the same time, it is going to allow other people to step up. When you have a void, you have to fill it. Even though he was a piece to our puzzle, I feel like we’ll be able to fill that piece again. He’s a great guy and I wish him the best in the future.”
I take full responsibility. I'm grateful for my teammates, coaches, and Vol nation. It has been and honor to help bring this program back.
— Danny O'Brien (@dandiesel13) October 11, 2016
Dobbs expressed similar sentiments, saying, “I’m sorry to see him go out that way.
“Every interaction I’ve ever had with OB has always been awesome, positive, pushing this team, pushing guys, pushing the defensive line. Getting guys to continue to work hard and get where we want to be and that’s really helped us grow.”
With O’Brien sidelined against the Aggies, sophomore tackles Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle saw increased playing time, with McKenzie delivering an impressive performance (5 tackles, 1 TFL) at Texas A&M.
“I think they’re (ready),” Kelly Jr. said of Tuttle and McKenzie.
“It’s a great opportunity. They had one of their best games of their careers against Texas A&M. That gives me confidence, as well as them and the coaching staff and the rest of our teammates. They know what they’re called to do when they were recruited here. They know what they signed up for. I think the opportunity is here and they have to do what they can. I feel like they’re prepared for it.”