It would have been very easy for this group of seniors to not buy into Jeremy Pruitt’s program. You see it annually when coaching changes are made, players are quick to hit that transfer portal instead of sticking it out under a new staff.

Asking veteran players to buy in is even tougher when immediate success does not follow. Coming off a 5-7 season in 2018 and starting the year 1-4 in 2019 is a recipe for disaster. Look no further than Arkansas or Florida State for proof of that.

Despite all the negativity surrounding Rocky Top early on this season, Tennessee’s seniors continued to stay the course. The move paid off for all involved but Jeremy Pruitt took the time to thank his seniors for staying the course during his most recent media availability.

“Our team likes each other, which is important. I feel like the guys on our team are very unselfish. They put the team first,” Pruitt said on Monday to open Vanderbilt week. “It’s easy to be positive and motivated when things are going well but you find your true character when things aren’t going well.

“That starts with our assistant coaches, our senior leadership that trickled on down. Right now, the kind of mood in the locker room is really, really good. It’s kinda been that way all year. When you start out 1-4, like we did, it comes down to why? It came down to turnovers and execution and that’s something we could control and our kids have worked hard to fix it.”

It’s never easy to ask players to buy in after they just experienced another coaching staff asking them to do the same, only to find out the results they were seeking did not follow. Despite only have a minimal history with some of the players he inherited in Knoxville, Pruitt expressed just how proud he is to see these players grow and finally on and off the field and expects that growth to continue the rest of their careers.

“It’s something that I’m really proud of these guys. I’m proud of these guys, excited for them. It’s been great to get to know them,” Pruitt continued. “I knew Nigel Warrior from the recruiting process. I didn’t know Daniel Bituli, I did know Darrell Taylor. Dom Wood-Anderson I knew in recruiting. Marquez and Jauan, I knew Marquez a little from recruiting.

“But just knowing them the last two years to get to know who they really are and how much pride they have in the University of Tennessee. To see them fight and try to finish something they started says a lot about them. These guys are going to have a ton of success beyond the university. It’s really what college football is really about, what these guys represent.”

Tennessee has not experienced a bowl trip since 2016 and without the contributions of the seniors in Knoxville, there’s no chance any younger members of the team would be experiencing their first postseason trip in the weeks to come.