Tennessee linebacker Keenan Pili has impressed those near and far.
The senior has certainly made an impression on his teammates in preseason camp. We’ll get to that in a moment. First, Pili was named as a nominee for the 2023 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year Award on Thursday. He joins a list of 85 standout players of Polynesian ancestry chosen for their integrity and abilities on and off the field. The Vols have seen that up close.
A transfer from BYU where he was a team captain, Pili’s impact is already being felt by other Vols before the season has even begun.
“He’s super talented and super skilled when he rushes just because he has a lot of experience,” senior TE Jacob Warren said during The Vol Report. “He is just a massive human, really big, really strong powerful dude, but also really good on his feet.”
Playing against Pili in preseason camp gained Warren’s attention.
“You know if you make a mistake, if you’re leaning too far over your shoulders, he’s going to hit you with speed,” Warren said. “If you’re back on your heels, he’s going to use power.”
Pili’s toughness and relentlessness on the field can almost surely be traced back to his roots. As Warren observed, “They (Polynesian players) care so much and they’re so prideful and passionate about their heritage. It runs deep in their families. Everyone plays football. Everyone plays sports. They really truly want to make their family proud, themselves proud and represent their culture in a way.”
Pili is part of a strong set of linebackers with Aaron Beasley back for his senior season after an impactful year in 2022. Freshman Arion Carter, a highly touted prospect when he signed with the Vols, has lived up to his recruiting billing and is thought to be one of the best underclassmen in UT’s opening weeks of camp.
Pili will find out on Nov. 30 if he has made the top five finalists for the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year award. The winner will be announced on Dec. 14 and will be honored during halftime of the Polynesian Bowl on January 19, 2024. Past winners of this award include QBs Marcus Mariota and Tua Tagovailoa.