Tennessee's Brandon Kennedy not through with adventurous college experience

Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee senior center Brandon Kennedy works out during an indoor practice this past week to continue his preparation for a sixth season of eligibility.

In January 2015, Brandon Kennedy was an early enrollee with the Alabama football team.

Businessman and reality television star Donald Trump was nearly six months away from announcing his intentions to run for president, while Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was more than a year away from playing in his final contest, a Super Bowl 50 victory over Carolina.

Of course, Kennedy doesn't need a timeline of historical perspectives, having packed multiple adventures into his college career that will span six seasons. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound offensive lineman from Wetumpka, Alabama, experienced national championship seasons with the Crimson Tide in 2015 and 2017 before transferring to Tennessee as a graduate student in 2018, when he played one game for the Volunteers before sustaining a season-ending injury.

Kennedy started all 13 games at center for last season's Vols, who won their final six contests to cap an 8-5 record that included a Gator Bowl topping of Indiana, and he is back after receiving a sixth season of eligibility from the NCAA. Kennedy's wild collegiate journey will end amid this COVID-19 pandemic that has pushed Southeastern Conference season openers back to Sept. 26.

Tennessee resumed practice Saturday night after Friday's workout was scratched due to an uptick of COVID-19 cases on the team.

"Looking back, I couldn't have imagined all this - to think that I would go through all of this just to be here now," Kennedy said. "These are very unprecedented times. It's been challenging, but it's also been exciting. A lot of this stuff just hasn't happened before.

"It's been great, and I've been taking it all in stride."

photo Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee senior center Brandon Kennedy is eager to make the most of his final year with the Volunteers after receiving a sixth season of elgibility from the NCAA.

Another unique measure of Kennedy's lengthy college career: Tua Tagovailoa's 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith that propelled Alabama to a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia in the national championship game of the 2017 season essentially serves as the halfway mark.

Kennedy competed in 10 career games at Alabama before following Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt from Tuscaloosa to Tennessee after that 2017 season, but a torn ACL in practice three days after starting at right guard in the 2018 opener against West Virginia delayed his aspirations at a new locale. He consistently graded at or near the top of Tennessee's linemen last season, but what Kennedy has accomplished off the field truly reflects that his six years of college have been the furthest thing from a waste.

In his three years at Alabama, Kennedy earned a bachelor's degree in recreation and sports management. Last December, he received a master's degree in sports psychology and motor behavior.

Kennedy, who turns 24 in November, is currently working on an agriculture leadership degree, which he is on track to attain in December.

"He's a smart guy who is very dependable," Pruitt said. "He brings really good leadership. He's tough. It's like having a coach out there on the field. He's a guy who, unfortunately because of injury, didn't get to play a whole lot early on in his career.

"He's got the opportunity now, and he continues to work hard to be the best player he can possibly be."

Kennedy foresees a future as a sports psychologist for an NFL team or a college program - "I want to just kind of get back and help athletes," he said - but the more immediate plan is to make the most of this season. He announced his receiving a sixth year moments after the Gator Bowl triumph on Jan. 2, and moving beyond his college career was never considered.

"I just wanted to play another year and get more film on tape and help the team be successful," Kennedy said. "That's what really went into it - and also the ability to get another degree. I'm all in and ready to play.

"We know the risks and we know the challenges, but we've been educated."

Kennedy's college adventure would seem to need an unlikely conclusion as well, and this pandemic already has provided one. On Dec. 5, barring any unforeseen setbacks, the Vols in their adjusted 10-game SEC schedule will host Florida, an opponent that traditionally symbolizes Tennessee's first big league game of the season.

"I think that will be really special, being able to play one last time at Neyland Stadium," Kennedy said. "Hopefully we'll have some fans. If not, I'll still be excited being able to play one last time at Neyland Stadium."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.