Video by Zack Eagles
Story by Max Schneider
Jared Pinkney could have heard his name called on the second day of the NFL Draft.
Graded as a “second- to fourth-round prospect,” Vanderbilt’s star tight end had a decision to make: turn pro or return to the university to finish out his senior season.
Most players would relish the idea of leaving school early to just focus on football, but Pinkney wasn’t going anywhere.
“When I see the degree and then I see the opportunities I’m going to have in football, for me to have done that at the same time, I feel like that’s a huge accomplishment,” he said.
For anyone who has met Pinkney, his decision comes as no surprise. He is spending his final semester relentlessly pursuing his main goals: get drafted in the first round and graduate in December. Departing from West End at the conclusion of last year’s Texas Bowl wouldn’t have helped him achieve either. This year, he’s poised to accomplish both.
“He’s an old soul in a young man’s body,” head coach Derek Mason says of Pinkney. “He’s one of the hardest workers you’ll find on and off the field.”
Pinkney concurs with his coach’s assessment.
“Oh definitely,” says Pinkney of his “old soul” designation. “It’s always been about football.”
That’s evident in how Pinkney spends his free time. When he’s not at practice or studying for his next communications exam, he’s in his room watching film. Sometimes that film is of his next opponent. Other times it’s film of some of the league’s best tight ends, trying to dissect Zach Ertz’s play to improve his own skillset, for example. He is, in every sense, a student of the game, and that bleeds through when he starts talking football.
Pinkney understands his role in the offense, and he understands the dirty work of his job. He is just as insightful when discussing his front-side blocking assignments on outside zone as he is talking about a 30-yard touchdown catch over the middle. He knows that’s what will separate him from the pack.
“My goals have always been the same since I first started, and that’s always just to be the best at what I do,” he says.
That perfectionist approach and the strict attention to detail is what defines Jared Pinkney. It’s why his fumble late in the third quarter of the Texas Bowl crushed him.
“When you put in the amount of work that I do, seeing it not really come to fruition, it hurts,” he says of that play. “It definitely played a part in my ultimate decision to come back.”
Now, back on campus and with the opening weekend of college football season just days away, Pinkney is ready to elevate his game. With a new quarterback and new faces on the offensive line, he will be as vital as ever to Vanderbilt’s offensive attack.
“He’s seen a bunch of things, so really between the O-line and tight ends and the O-line and quarterback there’s a ton of communication that goes on,” says offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski. “So for a guy like Jared who’s seen it all, when you have a young tackle, he can help with some of that communication that goes on.”
Pinkney understands that role well, and attributes his ability to effectively communicate to his studies in the classroom. Classes like public speaking have helped him streamline chemistry with his quarterback and offensive line, tackle press conferences, and handle the chaos of SEC Media Day.
It’s been a busy offseason for Pinkney. He has already accumulated countless preseason All-America honors, including several first-team nods, a preseason nomination for the Biletnikoff Award, as well as a preseason nomination for the John Mackey Award, given to the best tight end in the country.
“It shouldn’t be there right now if we’re being honest,” Pinkney says of his name being uttered in the same sentence as Mackey’s. “I hope to one day earn the place to be able to be mentioned alongside his name and some other greats.”
For Pinkney, hearing his name alongside John Mackey is secondary, because right now, Vanderbilt’s leader only wants to hear his name called in two places: right before he walks across the stage to collect his diploma, and when the commissioner reads it off his draft card that first Thursday night in May.
Until then, Jared Pinkney has work to do, and he’s back for one more semester to make sure he finishes what he started.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Vanderbilt Hustler.