Momentum continues to build in Tennessee’s favor in its search to turn another corner next season.
The Volunteers turn the calendar with six straight victories, including a 45-6 win over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, but they may as well up that to seven in a row after Tuesday’s news that Jalen Reeves-Maybin will not declare for the NFL Draft and will play his senior season for the Orange & White.
The linebacker said he was “challenged with making one of the hardest decisions in my life in deciding whether to pursue a dream of mine and enter the NFL Draft or to return to school for my final year.”
The 6-foot, 225-pounder has aspirations of turning the corner as a football player, adding that “good is the enemy of great.” Bold words from a second-team Associated Press All-SEC team honoree.
Reeves-Maybin said his “only focus for this season is to be great in everything I engage in on and off the field. So y’all got me for one more season and it will be nothing short of greatness."
Rivals from the SEC Eastern Division were not so luck say as linebackers like Georgia's Leonard Floyd and Vanderbilt's Stephen Weatherly won’t be back in 2016.
The Clarksville native and former Scout four-star prospect was one of just four Vols defenders that started all 13 games in 2015, leading the team with 105 tackles (66 solo) 14 tackles for loss. He was second with six sacks and tied for second with two forced fumbles.
The coordinator had an idea that Tennessee’s star linebacker would return.
“I get the impression that he and Dobbs are sort of the undisputed leaders of this group — Dobbs on offense and Jalen on defense,” Shoop said. “We had a relationship, and then finally we thought this was going to happen, he and I started talking. I’m very happy that he came back.”
Shoop admitted that the talent on the Team 120 roster “played a huge part” in his decision to leave Penn State for Rocky Top. The first name mentioned — Reeves-Maybin.
The return of Reeves-Maybin means another year of development for Cortez McDowell and other linebackers like Elliot Berry and Quarté Sapp. Paired Freshman All-SEC performer Darrin Kirkland Jr., the Vols should have one of the more formidable second-level defenses in their 4-2-5 set.
“(Reeve-Maybin)’s a special guy, and he knows that," Shoop said. "We've got big-time players up front."
Hear more about Tennessee getting its all-league tackler back for one more season by watching the Insider Report above.