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Tennessee football: BYU transfer LB Keenan Pili a huge pickup for Vols

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Josh Heupel and Tennessee football have been active on the first day of the early signing period. Less than an hour after receiving a commitment from local running back DeSean Bishop, they added a major transfer.

BYU Cougars transfer linebacker Keenan Pili has committed and signed with the Vols. He announced his decision on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

At 6’3″ 237 pounds, Pili recorded four tackles for a loss, an interception, a pass breakup, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and 62 total tackles, 29 of which were solo in 2022. He missed the final nine games in 2021 due to a season-ending injury.

This is a crucial get for Tennessee football. It’s clear that despite his best efforts to rebuild the program quickly, Josh Heupel hasn’t been able to fix every position group that was lacking in depth just yet.

Linebacker was one of those units. Although it’s gotten better, lack of depth proved costly late. Without Jeremy Banks, Tim Banks wasn’t able to be as creative with his stunts against the South Carolina Gamecocks, a huge reason they struggled.

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Heupel obviously addressed that with three highly touted linebackers in this recruiting class, but it was clear he needed a proven linebacker to add to the mix as well.

It’s more likely than not that Banks doesn’t return. He took part in the Senior Day festivities, after all. That makes Pili an even bigger pickup, but either way, there needs to be more than just Aaron Beasley and Juwan Mitchell.

Coming out of Timpview High School in Provo, Utah, Pili committed in 2016. However, according to Ben McKee of GoVols247, he served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 2017 to 2019.

Pili became a starter in 2020, but he suffered a season-ending injury in 2021, only playing three games. He returned this year, though, and appears to be at full strength.

Technically, he is a sixth-year senior entering this season, meaning he should have just one year of eligibility left. However, the details surrounding that are a bit hazy.

That’s because Pili redshirted in 2016, 2020 didn’t count against his eligibility, and there is a history of players getting a sixth year by getting a medical redshirt after a standard redshirt. Could 2021 earn him a medical redshirt?

If so, then Tennessee football could have Pili for two years. However, even if one year is the most likely option, Heupel filled an immediate need and gives Banks lots of flexibility. Don’t be surprised if he starts immediately.

Pili’s family is all BYU. His brother, Trajan, played there in 2013 and then from 2016 to 2019, and his father’s cousin, Ifo Pili, played there in 1997 and 1998 and then from 2001 to 2003.

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