By Alex Norman
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and Tennessee is hoping that the Class of 2017 will help them get to the next level in the Southeastern Conference.
The Vols certainly have their work cut out for them going into next season. It’s no secret that Tennessee loses a lot of talent from a team that won 9 games in 2016. Defensive tackle Derek Barnett, running back Alvin Kamara, and wide receiver Josh Malone are all leaving college early for the pros. Senior captains quarterback Joshua Dobbs, linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton will all get opportunities to make it in the NFL as well.
And don’t forget about running back Jalen Hurd, who quit in the middle of the season.
“We’re excited because we think we were able to add some dynamic football players, some players that have great grit, great tough and have that great competitive spirit,” said Tennessee head coach Butch Jones in a press conference on Wednesday, February 1st (National Signing Day).
“We wanted individuals that not necessarily loved recruiting but love football, and they have a passion for football, and they have a passion to gain a college education, and that’s what we think makes this class very balanced from top to bottom.”
In all, Tennessee signed student-athletes from 10 different states. There are new 12 offensive players, 14 defensive players and one specialist on the roster.
Coaches talk about “building a wall” around the state, and Tennessee did well inside the state’s borders, with 7 Tennesseans in this class. That group includes 4-star running back Ty Chandler from Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy, and 5-star offensive tackle Trey Smith from the University School of Jackson. Those were two major gets.
However, there were misses and two big ones close to home.
5-star receiver Tee Higgins from Oak Ridge and 4-star receiver Amari Rodgers from Webb School in Knoxville turned down Tennessee and instead will play at defending national champion Clemson. But Butch Jones seems to take issue with the perception that Tennessee’s recruiting has slipped a bit.
“I think this is probably overall the most positive year that we’ve had in recruiting,” said Jones. “Every high school I went into, whatever state it was… whether it is the principal the high school football coach the athletic director coming out saying… ‘Wow, you know Tennessee’s back.’”
But the reality is this… when the dust settles Tennessee likely has a Top 15 level class nationally. That’s obviously pretty good, and a stature that Vols fans hoped for not too long ago. However, in the SEC that’s only good enough to get Tennessee into the middle of the pack. And with division rivals Georgia and Florida a step above with their classes, this will make life even more difficult for the Vols going forward.
Jones did ask for patience from Tennessee fans going forward with the newcomers. “I do want to guard against this class though I think it is unfair to put any expectations on them at this point and time” said Jones. “As we all know each individual develops differently at their own stage.”
2017 is shaping up to be a very important season for Butch Jones, his 5th in Knoxville. Tennessee hasn’t won the SEC since 1998, nor has it played for a conference title since 2007.
Patience is something Tennessee fans are starting to run out of…