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Tennessee’s choice not to take Vol superstar James Pearce, Jr., just hurts him

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Tennessee seems to be trying to protect James Pearce, Jr. That’s a bit troublesome. Or perhaps I’m overthinking things.

There is no question that Pearce, Tennessee’s star defensive end and possibly the No. 1 overall pick in the 2025 NFL Draft, is worthy of being selected to attend SEC Media Days – athletically. By not taking Pearce, it’s fair to wonder if his maturity may be a factor. Is Tennessee afraid he could say something out of line in Dallas next week?

It’s one thing for Pearce to sit in front of a few local media members, many of which he’s known for years since recruiting, and answer questions about his incredibly dumb arrest in December 2023. Charges have been dropped, but the original charges were eye opening: speeding, driving on a suspended license, failure to provide identification or proof of insurance. The traffic stop was a bit routine except for the fact that Pearce wasn’t compliant with officers, according to the police report.

There is no question that some reporter would ask Pearce about the incident whether it should be considered old news or not. After all, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was once quizzed about his virginity at SEC Media Days. Yes, it’s a free-for-all. I, however, would like to hear what Pearce has to say about the incident whether one would consider it old news or not. 

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Do you think NFL general managers and potential sponsors might want to hear what exactly was going through Pearce’s mind when he allegedly went rogue against the Knoxville Police Department and failed to follow their instructions, according to the police report? I’ll answer that. They do. 

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SEC Media Days would have given Pearce one chance to address it, put it to bed and move on. Either Tennessee didn’t think that was such a great idea or someone, Pearce or head coach Josh Heupel, thought the All-SEC player could make things worse. Not everyone sees such a situation in the same light.

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy forced a player in a far more serious situation to release a statement and answer questions in response to Ollie Gordon II’s charges, which include alcohol. However, Gordon’s charges are still pending.

“Your punishment is going to be facing the facts,” Gundy said he told Gordon according to ESPN at Big 12 Media Days in Las Vegas. “That’s why we brought him here today…I said, ‘You’re not going into hiding. You’re going to face the music. You’re going to have to stand up and talk to people and answer questions. And, hopefully, more than football, you can learn from the situation you’ve been in. Because if not, then we have a real issue.”

If Tennessee tries to protect Pearce moving forward, he’ll have an issue as well, most likely with entitlement or no sense of responsibility for when he makes mistakes. College football is still a place for learning. Tennessee’s coaches have to teach young men how to play football, but they also have to prepare them for the future, which will include the NFL with Pearce.

Pearce needs to be ready to handle tough interviews from NFL teams about his rather minor legal issue. SEC Media Days would have helped Pearce be more prepared for those difficult questions. That’s an opportunity missed for the Vols.

Pearce, along with several players, will be available for individual/group interviews later this month. However, that will be a bit tame compared to what is about to happen in Dallas.

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