Jauan Jennings etched his place into Tennessee folklore last season with two signature touchdown receptions.
Jennings reeled in the game-winning reception from Josh Dobbs as time expired to beat Georgia 34-31 in Sanford Stadium. The week before, Jennings burned Florida cornerback and well-documented Vol hater Jalen Tabor on a 67-yard touchdown reception to give the Vols their first lead in a 38-28 victory over Florida, their first against the Gators in 11 years.
“That play right there was a result of their talk — I never talk before games, because what’s the point?” Jennings said. “That game was a statement game after hearing we were the worst receivers they had played against, so that was personal.
“Not just me, but for the eight receivers next to me that worked their butts off. So it was time to come play.”
Seven of Jennings 40 receptions went for touchdowns in 2017. His inspiring play earned him the reputation of a “dog” on the field and made him a fan favorite.
“Jauan, we just call him a dog,” then-Tennessee lineman Dylan Wiesman said last season. “He goes out there and he fights every single snap, gives you 110 percent every play. You put the film on and watch.”
Coach Butch Jones said the Vols’ offense “completely feeds off him. He’s as great a competitor as we have on our football team … as great a competitor as anyone I’ve been around.”
Jennings ranked second on the team in receptions, as well as receiving yards (580) and touchdowns (seven) last season. He also averaged 14.5 yards per catch.
After spending 2016 as Tennessee’s No. 2 option, Jennings will take over as the Vols’ prgo-to receiver after the departure of Josh Malone, who was selected in the fourth round by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2017 draft.
Jennings was a touted high school quarterback at Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman who didn’t play wide receiver for the first time until fall camp before his true freshman season in 2015 (he enrolled early and went through spring drills that year as a quarterback). He had just 14 receptions that season, then blossomed last season, when he began to show signs that he could be a legit star on the outside.
UT has had just four players catch more than 50 passes in the past nine seasons, and Jennings has the skill set to easily surpass that total this season. He has good size and is athletic, and while he’s not a burner, he has good speed and quickness.
(You can follow Mark Nagi on Twitter @MarkNagi)
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