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Keenan Pili Details Decision To Return To Tennessee For Super Senior Season

Keenan Pili
Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

BYU linebacker transfer Keenan Pili had a simple plan when he committed to Tennessee football last December. He’d play his final year of eligibility at Tennessee and then move on to whatever football or life had waiting for him.

Those plans changed quickly. Pili played just 30 snaps in Tennessee’s season opener against Virginia, suffering a tricep injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year.

Pili “knew the injury was bad” right away. At the time, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel expressed optimism that Pili could return by the end of the season but that didn’t happen. The linebacker won’t play in the Citrus Bowl but told the local media Monday that his recovery was ahead of schedule

“I’ve been told many times that I’m really ahead of schedule for where the track says I should be,” Pili said. “I’m just taking that day-by-day, and understanding I’m not playing the bowl game, so I’m just trying to make sure I get fully healthy as I progress along the way. Not really rushing anything, getting stronger, getting back, feeling better, so I’m excited.”

Pili was starting at linebacker beside Aaron Beasley to open the season. The transfer totaled 62 tackles in 2022 at BYU and was going to play a major role in his final college season.

The linebacker was out of eligibility after the 2023 season but had the opportunity to apply for a medical redshirt. First, Pili had extensive conversations with Tennessee coaches about whether he wanted to pursue a medical redshirt.

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“These coaches, they have the player’s best interest,” Pili said. “A lot of the thoughts I had were pros and cons. What would it be like coming back? What would it be like if you left? How would all this work out? I think those conversations that I had with the coaches and certain people really helped me in the long run to make a well-informed decision. It’s something I’m comfortable with and excited about.”

Despite missing almost the entirety of the 2023 season, the transfer linebacker became a true member of Tennessee’s team. Pili was in the facility every day and traveled with the team for road games where he provided tips and support to his fellow linebackers during games.

That camaraderie and togetherness throughout his super senior season was a major reason why Pili decided to return to Tennessee for his final season.

“I think diving into Tennessee, this program, it was really easy to say, ‘Man, I’d love to come back. Who wouldn’t want to be here for another year?’ ” Pili said. “I think that had to do with a big part of me wanting to come back rather than leaving.”

The NCAA approved Pili’s waiver for a medical redshirt last week before the inside linebacker officially announced his intention to return for a seventh college season.

Pili has had a long and turbulent collegiate career. He arrived at BYU in 2016 before spending two years in Florida and away from the football program as part of his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He rejoined the BYU football program after the two-year hiatus and played three more seasons there before transferring to Tennessee.

After starting his college career at 2016 in Provo, Pili’s college career will conclude in 2024 in Knoxville.

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