Vols’ Brandon Kennedy is coach in waiting

Marvin Westwestwords

File this away for future reference. The day will come when Brandon Kennedy, if he so chooses, is a fine football coach.

Brandon is approaching his sixth season as a college player. That, alone, says he has seen and heard a lot.

Kennedy is no dumb jock. He has accumulated considerable knowledge. In three years, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in biology from the University of Alabama.

Brandon Kennedy

Last December, he added a master’s degree in sports psychology and kinesiology from the University of Tennessee. He is working toward another master’s, in leadership and communication. If they still do the cap-and-gown thing, look for him in a ceremony. He’ll be easy to identify. He’s 6-3 and 301.

Kennedy is Tennessee’s center. That is a thinking man’s position, the most cerebral in the offensive line. He is the choreographer. In the precious seconds before each snap, he reads and interprets defensive alignments. Is that a stunt taking shape? Is a blitz coming? Where from? Do I need to adjust our blocking assignments?

Most fans follow the ball. They see the center hand it to the quarterback or snap him a pass if he is in the shotgun formation. You have to be down in the combat zone to grasp the challenges. It takes a strong personality to handle the pressure. Bad things happen if the center makes a mental mistake.

Tennessee’s need and his center skills are no more than a third of the Kennedy story. His switch from Alabama to Tennessee is an intriguing segment. His fight through dual setbacks while somehow maintaining a smile sent a powerful message. It was beautiful, never-give-up toughness.

Brandon Kennedy did some growing up in Wetumpka, Alabama, 20 miles, more or less, from Montgomery.

I’ll tell you all I know about Wetumpka.

  1. An overgrown meteorite landed a few million years ago and left a large depression and impression.
  2. Creek Indians struck gold. They operate a casino, not far from the Coosa River.
  3. The Rosa Parks Story was filmed in Wetumpka.

In the beginning, Tennessee tried to recruit Brandon. He was a four-star athlete, the No. 3 center in the country, and an Auburn fan – until the Crimson Tide offered a scholarship.

He did not achieve greatness in Tuscaloosa. He was redshirted in 2015. He was a reserve guard who played some in 2016. He was the backup center for three games in 2017 but suffered a season-ending leg injury.

Meanwhile, he did all his schoolwork. He graduated and started looking for greater opportunity in greener pastures. He considered Tennessee because he knew Jeremy Pruitt and Auburn for old times’ sake. Tide coach Nick Saban didn’t like either transfer idea and went public with criticism and resistance.

While Kennedy was waiting and hoping for a waiver, the SEC changed the rules to fit what Pruitt had said all along – a man who earns his degree should have the right to go wherever he wants if wanted.

The new Volunteer was impressive and it wasn’t just because of his positive attitude or his two national championship rings. Pruitt said, “Brandon is a really good competitor.”

He won the center job in August 2018. He started against West Virginia in the opener. Two days later, in practice, he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

We don’t know which four-letter words Brandon muttered to himself – maybe ouch or darn. He was almost certainly discouraged. We know he didn’t surrender. He credits his field of study and UT’s mental health services with helping push him through.

Repairs went well but he couldn’t play or practice. He concentrated on film study. He detailed defensive opponents and passed along tips to teammates. He studied their performances and offered suggestions for improvement. He did his best to contribute. Nobody thought he was butting in.

He rehabbed and recovered. He started every game in 2019. He had high grades as a technician. He was a significant physical and mental leader in that six-game winning streak.

Freshman offensive tackles Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright called him “the mastermind of the offensive line.”

“They called me Coach Kennedy.”

Brandon could have said enough already and departed on the high of the remarkable Gator Bowl victory. Instead, he underwent another knee surgery to alleviate pain from wear and tear – and asked the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.

Approval was logical. He had missed almost all of two seasons with injuries. He was an academic success. He had never even been close to trouble.

In the crowd of 2020 Tennessee seniors, he is one of the true senior citizens, a grand old man. He’ll turn 24 a couple of days after the Kentucky game. Because he is big and knows a lot and can do a lot, and because crafty centers are relatively rare, an NFL team may want to purchase his services.

If not, he is a natural to become a three-time graduate assistant coach. The world and I await the progression.

Marvin West welcomes reader remarks or questions. His address is [email protected]

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