Not Bad Considering the Circumstances
By Alex Norman
First things first… the sky is not falling.
Did Tennessee get a top 10 recruiting class? No. When all is said the done, this class likely falls in that 18th to 22nd range nationally, and around 8th in the conference.
Were there disappointments on National Signing Day? There sure were!
Four-star linebacker Quay Walker not only picked Georgia over Tennessee, but he turned it into a spectacle. Walker wore a Tennessee cap for a moment, then tossed it aside and revealed his Georgia gear.
Four-star wide receiver Jacob Copeland picked Florida over Tennessee. That prompted his mother, who was wearing a Tennessee toboggan and an Alabama sweatshirt (?) to walk away from her son (she later returned and hugged him).
4-star running back Anthony Grant and 4-star wide receiver Jordan Young flipped to Florida State.
There are glaring needs on this Tennessee roster, and those were all players that could have helped in that regard.
New head coach Jeremy Pruitt spoke about the challenges of recruiting this class.
“For one, when you look at the guys on our staff, we kind of came from all over,” Pruitt said. “So we had built relationships with guys to recruit them to other schools. A lot of the guys, even though they just announced today (February 7), had already decided on where they wanted to go so we were probably way behind to begin with.”
Pruitt of course was not available full-time to the Tennessee Volunteers until the second week in January, once his duties as Alabama’s defensive coordinator were complete. This hurt the Vols in this class, especially when you remember the debut of the early signing period (December 20-22).
There just wasn’t enough time to build those relationships. That won’t be the case for the Class of 2019. And Pruitt is already off to a good start. The day after NSD, the Vols got a verbal commitment from Jackson Lampley, a 4-star offensive lineman from Montgomery Bell Academy.
“It’s going to be a lot easier than it was this time because we’re going to start as soon as possible, and we’ve already started hosting underclassmen on campus, said Pruitt. “The way to keep moving up the process in recruiting, it starts earlier and earlier, and that’s something we’re going to have to do. And we’ll do it all spring, so I hope this time next year the guys we’re talking about have been to campus more than one time.”
Much like Butch Jones got a big boost from his first full class in 2014, Pruitt is eyeing big things for 2019.
Not to say that there aren’t contributors to be found in the Class of 2018. 4-star defensive lineman Emmit Gooden, a JUCO transfer, should fit in well with Pruitt’s 3-4 defensive alignment. 4-star linebacker J.J. Peterson likely gets early playing time as a true freshman. The Vols held off a late challenge from Alabama for Peterson.
Pruitt thinks he got a steal in 3-star safety Trevon Flowers, who picked the Vols over Clemson. “Very unique individual,” Pruitt said. “Has a very good skill set as a defensive back and could probably play all six positions back there. I think this guy’s going to be a very good player for us one day.”
Flowers only played high school football during his senior season, and hopes to also play baseball at Tennessee.
Among the early signees from December, running back Jeremy Banks should see the field as a true freshman. He’s a bruising 6’2”, 215 pound runner that will get to campus this June.
“It’s kind of why they have weight classes,” said Pruitt. “The heavyweights don’t fight the lightweights. I know from a defensive standpoint, those bigger guys on the other side of the ball, when it gets to the third and fourth quarter, those guys can pound the defense a little bit, so we needed a guy like that.”
The rebuild from the worst season in Tennessee football history has begun. We’ll find out in the years to come if Jeremy Pruitt can get the Vols back to SEC prominence.