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Tennessee designates Keenan Pili as defensive MVP

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It’s not official but it might as well be: linebacker Keenan Pili is Tennessee’s most valuable defensive player heading into the 2024 season.

“Wait,” you say. “The guy who just played in one game last season before suffering a season-ending injury.”

Yeah, that guy. The guy who has suffered two season-ending injuries, including a Triceps injury last season and a torn ACL in 2021. The guy who is almost old enough to be called “Sir” for the remainder of his life. Man, those are tough times.

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Tennessee made Pili its poster child this week when it revealed who would be attending SEC Media Days in Dallas next week. How about some pressure?

Pili isn’t just on the graphic; he’s centered and in front of two players, center Cooper Mays and defensive tackle Omari Thomas, who have played in about a bazillion more games as a Vol than Pili, who transferred from BYU before the 2023 season and suffered that pesky arm injury in the season opener.

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Now, before some might question some sort of falsehood that I’ve produced for clicks, I have zero problem with Pili being the “face” of the program until quarterback Nico Iamaleava takes that position over sometime in September. Sources told Off The Hook Sports that Iamaleava did not attend SEC Media Days because he is a redshirt freshman. However, the decision to take Pili is more interesting to me.

Tennessee’s coaches and players believe so much in Pili that they’d send him in front of the world to talk about a school that he’s only been able to suit up for once. There was a time when such a move would have signified that Tennessee was desperate. Now, the Vols are just proud.

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