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Vols Lose Defensive Starter to Season-Ending Injury

Photo by Anne Newman/RTI

Tennessee has already been dealt one season-ending injury this season. And on Sunday, it was confirmed they’ve suffered yet another injury that will cut a starter’s season short.

UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt appeared on “The Nation” on Sports Radio WNML on Sunday night, and he confirmed the news that redshirt senior linebacker Jonathan Kongbo will be out the rest of the season after tearing his ACL against Auburn on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, he’s tore his ACL and he’s going to be out the remainder of the year,” Pruitt said on the show. “He’ll have surgery in a couple of days and he’ll get better from it. Hopefully he’ll get a chance to finish up his degree and continue his football career.”

The injury puts an end to Kongbo’s playing career at Tennessee. He could potentially apply for a medical hardship redshirt, but it’s unlikely he’ll do so or that it will be granted since he played in half of Tennessee’s regular season games this season.

Kongbo was helped off the field in the second half of Tennessee’s 30-24 win over No. 21 Auburn on Saturday, and it was later determined that the third-year Vol tore his ACL. He totaled two tackles and an interception before exiting against the Tigers.

Sophomore Deandre Johnson filled in for Kongbo against Auburn, and it’s likely he’ll earn the start when Tennessee faces off against No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. JUCO transfer Jordan Allen and redshirt junior Austin Smith are the other outside linebackers who could see time in the outside linebacker rotation in the coming weeks.

Kongbo had started all six games at outside linebacker for the Vols this season, joining redshirt junior Darrell Taylor as Tennessee’s two main outside linebackers in Pruitt’s 3-4 defensive scheme. The redshirt senior finishes his final year with the Vols with 11 tackles, four quarterback hurries, and an interception.

The Vols haven’t had as many injuries so far this year as they have in the last two seasons, but Kongbo is UT’s second starter to go down with a season-ending injury since the 2018 season began. Starting center and Alabama grad transfer Brandon Kennedy suffered a season-ending knee injury just a couple days after the Vols opened the season against West Virginia. Kennedy ended up getting hurt during practice while preparing for ETSU.

Kongbo came to Tennessee as a highly-rated JUCO defensive end/linebacker who had high expectations immediately placed on him. But Kongbo never could quite live up to those lofty standards.

In his first year with the Vols in 2016, Kongbo played sparingly at first but saw more action as the season went along. He switched from defensive end to defensive tackle during the season as injuries piled up along UT’s interior defensive line. He appeared in all 13 games and made two starts that first season before taking on a bigger role in 2017. Kongbo started 10 games and appeared in 11 of Tennessee’s 12 games in 2017.

This year, Kongbo earned a starting spot at outside linebacker in the new 3-4 defensive system implemented by Pruitt and his new staff. He had started all six games before his injury on Saturday.

In his Tennessee career, Kongbo totaled 51 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions (one he returned for a touchdown), and two passes defended in 30 total games.

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