Brandon Kennedy wants to bring 'championship' leadership to Vols

Low-key player prefers being center on field to center of attention

Tennessee graduate transfer offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy works through offensive line drills during practice Thursday.

KNOXVILLE - For an interior lineman who is from a town of 6,500 people in rural Alabama and is intently focused on academics, this summer felt a little out of Brandon Kennedy's comfort zone.

Kennedy kept a low profile during three years at the University of Alabama spent competing for playing time, recovering from a foot injury and graduating ahead of schedule. Then, suddenly, the soft-spoken 300-pounder from Wetumpka became the poster child of the push for a significant Southeastern Conference rule change.

"Alabama football denies OL Brandon Kennedy appeal to transfer," read one internet headline from May 21.

photo Tennessee graduate transfer offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy works through offensive line drills during a preseason practice.

"The SEC and/or Alabama should let Brandon Kennedy transfer wherever," read another headline from May 30.

At the heart of the issue was an SEC rule requiring graduate transfers to sit out a year when transferring to another league school. The saga's main characters were Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban and Kennedy, leading to a flood of attention for the previously low-key lineman who was considering Auburn and Tennessee after completing a degree at Alabama.

"Um, yeah, I'm not a big media guy," Kennedy said Thursday, wearing a University of Tennessee polo a few hours before taking the practice field with his new team. "So it was kind of hard for me. But I feel like I adjusted to it well and took everything in stride."

First-year Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt agreed.

The SEC's executive committee voted during the league's summer meetings in Destin, Florida, to no longer require its graduate transfer athletes to sit out a year when moving to another league school. That paved the way for Kennedy to transfer to Tennessee, where his transition to a new unit is off to a positive start.

"A guy like him, I think he has quickly earned the respect of his teammates by the way he practices, by the way he goes about his business," Pruitt said Thursday. "I think everybody in the program is excited that he's here."

Kennedy is the front-runner to start at center when the Vols open their season against West Virginia on Sept. 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

"Brandon is a really good competitor who strains," Pruitt said. "He knows how to strain, and he knows how to do it every play."

With Kennedy, Pruitt has added a player with 10 games of SEC experience over the past two seasons to a unit that struggled to block anyone a year ago amid a flood of injuries and attrition.

The Vols have also added a winner. During Kennedy's three seasons in Tuscaloosa - he redshirted in 2015 - the Crimson Tide went 41-3 with two national championships.

"I'm just trying daily to earn my teammates' respect, and also I just want to push them," Kennedy said. "I'm coming from a championship team, and I want to bring that leadership here."

Kennedy knew fellow redshirt junior offensive lineman Drew Richmond because both played in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game as college prospects. Richmond helped acclimate Kennedy to his new environment. Kennedy admitted he was "a little nervous" at first.

"But as I got here, people came around me and they all accepted me, and I feel like I gained their trust pretty quick," he said.

Kennedy mentioned several times Thursday that Tennessee's sports psychology master's degree concentration is the primary factor that drew him to Knoxville.

"That's a big thing for me," he said. "But also I knew it was a great opportunity here to come and play football."

After a summer spent in the headlines, that will be a welcome change.

"I'm very excited to get to the first game," Kennedy said

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