KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt was bragging on his son. He likes to do that. Jayse Pruitt has been a regular inside the Anderson Training Facility. The coaches respect his football knowledge. Even if they didn't admire that part, they respect him.
"Most of those coaches on that staff I've known my whole life," Jayse said.
Offensive line coach Will Friend was Jeremy Pruitt's roommate in college. Jayse become familiar with special teams/safeties coach Charles Kelly in high school. Jayse has known Todd Watson, Tennessee's director of football operations, since he was in the second grade.
"The offensive coaches are in there … having a conversation," Jeremy Pruitt said from his office. "I hear [running backs coach] Chris Weinke say, 'I'm fixing to call Jayse and ask him.' I'm walking by and I said, 'You talking about my Jayse?'"
Yes, that Jayse with his whole life ahead of him. All of that love and admiration is poured onto Page 9 of Tennessee's spring guide. Jayse Pruitt, 22, is featured prominently, standing tall in the rear of a family picture that features the coach, his wife Casey and their sons Ridge, 3, and Flynt, 1.
There is no hint that, for Jeremy Pruitt, Jayse is the brilliant result of a previous relationship.
"I was here before any of the rest of them," Jayse said, commenting on the picture. "Dad didn't get married until I was going into my senior year in high school. My younger brothers have come along since. I don't feel out of place with them. We're family."
And that's just the way it is with Jayse, Jeremy and Haley Martin, Jayse's birth mother. They all grew up in the same small town -- Rainsville, Alabama.
Twenty-two years ago, Jeremy was the same age as his Jayse is now, finishing up as a defensive back at Alabama. Haley was of a similar age. She eventually married David Martin and settled on a poultry farm.
There was no discernible animosity.
"You could just say as young parents … there weren't any custody battles and all that mess," Haley said of her relationship with Jeremy Pruitt.
The situation is not unique in our society, but Jayse's life story shouldn't overshadow his origin story. Jayse was always a small-town kid with incredible values. He followed in the footsteps of his father, playing quarterback at Plainview High School for grandfather Dale Pruitt, Jeremy's dad.
He thrived in this setting because of who he came from, but also who he became. That brilliant result, that son of a football coach, is chasing his master's in divinity studies.
"You don't realize the kind of influences I had growing up," Jayse said. "The people I was surrounded by, they were all God-fearing people. I realized what I wanted to get into. There is no greater way to spend your life than serving God."
The Martin household is members of the Church of Christ. Jeremy tells stories of taking Jayse to travel baseball games and his son needing a place of worship more than a bat.
"I can remember one time we had a 9 a.m. game. Jayse didn't play in the game. He went to church," Jeremy recalled. "We got there about halfway through the game. … He's a lot better influence on me than I am on him."
Jayse was so mature that his peers called him "Paw-Paw" -- a youthful nickname for "grandfather." As a teenager, he'd be in bed by 10 p.m. -- at the latest. He took a Bible to junior high school. There were no rebellious years.
"I got messages from coaches: 'I never saw anything like this,'" Haley recalled.
Jayse was not unlike Power Five pro prospects, spending only three years in college. But he wasn't chasing an NFL dream. He played sparingly as an FCS quarterback at Jacksonville State, trying to rush to his degree instead of between the tackles.
"That just tells you he has his head on straight," Haley said.
These three worlds come together again Saturday at the Alabama-Tennessee game. John David Martin, one of the sons of Haley and David, will meet up with Jayse in Knoxville, Tennessee. They have been friends since they were preschoolers. Jayse is 13 months older than John David.
"They say it takes a village," Jayse said. "Certainly, I'm a result of that."
This story never veers far from Rainsville, a town of 5,000 tucked into the northeast corner of Alabama. Dale Pruitt is a legend there, having spent two stays totaling 26 years coaching at Plainview.
"They say, go to any level of football and every player will tell you, 'If I could go back and play one more game, I'd go back to high school and play with those guys,'" Jayse said. "I'm in that same category. There's a reason my granddad has been doing it for 41 years. If he retired, he'd probably just die."
This being Alabama-Tennessee week, Rainsville's loyalties are divided. Jeremy Pruitt is the favorite son who got the key to the city this year. His arrival at Tennessee calmed the waters at a place that needed calming.
But Crimson Tide waters also run deep.
"They're a big rival," Haley said of the Vols. "We don't like them."
In the process, Jeremy has not big-timed anybody. His coaching career has taken him from Plainview to Hoover High School in Alabama to Bama, Florida State and Georgia before going back to the Crimson Tide.
Jayse can remember the day when Jeremy called to say Nick Saban had offered him a job as director of player personnel. His son was working out with his grandfather at the time. That was 2007.
"I don't know if he's ever been a big deal," Jayse said. "If you talk to him, he's just an old country hick from Rainsville, Alabama, that made it big. He still goes back home and goes up to Hardee's to shoot the breeze."
The three worlds, then, are to be celebrated, not judged.
Jeremy has waded into the sometimes-vicious waters of SEC head coaching. The mother oversees a household, two other sons and 100,000 chickens. Their son will soon be teaching New Testament in a classroom somewhere.
Does that make Jayse Pruitt the perfect child?
"Pretty much," Haley said.