Going into the 2018 Orange and White Game the Tennessee Volunteers currently sit with four commitments for the class of 2019 and one commitment for the class of 2020. And while the commitments have certainly come more slowly than Vol fans are used to under the former staff, what one can rightfully say is that those commitments are from the kind of prospects that Tennessee needs to land in order to get back to contending for SEC East and conference championships as quickly as possible. In OL Jackson Lampley, TE Jackson Lowe, and DL LeDarrius Cox and DL Darrel Middleton, Tennessee has a group of 2019 commitments for whom they have beaten out SEC powers, and who at the same time represent both Coach Jeremy Pruitt’s commitment to fixing Tennessee in the trenches and also simply recruiting more physically imposing players.
Having been on the job just a handful of months, the O&W Game is Pruitt’s first real chance to showcase two of the Tennessee Football progam’s competitive advantages: Neyland Stadium and the Volunteer fanbase. Although the latter is still in a bit of a “prove it” mode with Pruitt after being burned to a degree by Butch Jones, there is a palpable sense that we’ve got a real football coach on our hands, and I expect that to be reflected in the attendance on Saturday.
Also in attendance on Saturday will be a really nice collection of recruits, some of whom will be taking advantage of the new NCAA rule that allows earlier official visits than ever before. The Vols will host three 4-star official visitors in OL Wanya Morris, WR Jalen Curry, and DE Khris Bogle, and while Curry and Bogle are certainly prospects that Tennessee would love to have, without a doubt it is Morris who will have all eyes on this weekend.
Morris is a borderline 5-star and a true offensive tackle, making him the kind of recruit around whom you can center an entire class. And with Lampley already in the fold and the Vols very much in the thick of it with 5-star OL Darnell Wright, adding Morris, who is set to announce his decision on May 1, would set Tennessee up for a potentially monster OL class. Morris has had Tennessee and Auburn as his finalists for a while now, and while there has been a feeling that he was leaning to the Vols going into the weekend, it seems clear at this point that no decision has been made yet. He’s been to campus multiple times and clearly sees a chance for immediate playing time in Knoxville, and at the same time has bonded really well with both Pruitt as well as OL coach Will Friend. Unfortunately, there’s a strong likelihood that no matter how well this weekend’s visit goes Morris will still take his official visit to Auburn the following weekend, immediately before his announcement date. Now, one could make the case that if the Vols are indeed the leaders going into this weekend then they have a chance to move so far ahead of Auburn that they cannot be caught. At the same time, if Tennessee is going to burn its OV in April then the Vols are better off with Auburn doing the same, as long as Morris does end up committing to the Vols in May. On the other hand, you’d certainly prefer him to simply commit this weekend and completely shut it down; unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen. So, the Vols will need to absolutely knock Wanya’s and his parents’ socks off and lock down what would be a foundational piece of this class.
The list of unofficial visitors is equally impressive, and there are three in particular who could be on commitment watch while on The Hill:
TE Sean Brown: This weekend will mark the fourth time Brown has been to Knoxville since March, and Tennessee would love to add him to fellow big-bodied Georgia Jackson Lowe to form a highly-ranked and potentially instant impact set of TEs to this class
WR Ramel Keyton: Even more so than Brown, Keyton is no stranger to Knoxville, and this weekend will make at least six visits to campus – notably this will be his third since Pruitt and Co. came to town. Keyton even named the Vols his leader last summer, but that fell off as the Butch Jones era ended. He’s one of the best WRs in the class, as he proved recently at The Opening Atlanta, and while it may be a bit presumptuous to think he pops this weekend it’s far from beyond the realm of possibility. Notably, Keyton hails from the talent-laden Marietta HS in Marietta, GA, also home to Tennessee’s #1 QB prospect in the 2020 class Harrison Bailey
DB Jaydon Hill: Hill has recently blown up on the recruiting trail after being named one of top performers at The Opening Atlanta. He’s the kind of long CB that Pruitt covets, and he’s also a track athlete – running the 100 meters and relays. South Carolina is thought to be his leader, but Austin Price from Volquest.com has been hinting that Hill could be one to watch this weekend and AP has good sources. This will be Hill’s second visit to Tennessee since an early March Junior Day, so there is definitely high interest there. We’ll see if anything happens this weekend or if the Vols simply entrench themselves at the top of his list
The other unofficial visitors, while likely further from making decisions, nonetheless make up a strong group of prospects:
RB Eric Gray: The four-star APB from Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis is visiting on Thursday and it’s unclear how long his visit will be. Gray is a bit on the smaller side for what Pruitt generally prefers. That said, he’s a dynamic back with a Stanford offer who currently has a Mid-South Top 3 of Ole Miss, Arkansas and Mississippi State. How hard Tennessee pushes while he is on campus will likely determine what kind of player the Vols end up being
RB John Emery: Emery is a larger back at 6’0, 200 that has a laundry list of suitors that includes SEC bluebloods like homestate LSU and Alabama, who Tennessee “beat out” to get the visit this weekend. While he is the son of former Vol DE John Emery Sr. (who played for Tennessee in 1993-94), it’s unclear how important that is to him. That said, the Vols are among his top group so getting him to campus for what should be a big weekend is a good sign
DB Shyheim Battle; Like Hill, Battle fits the mold of a Jeremy Pruitt CB, only Battle is even taller at a legit 6’2. His multi-day visit started Thursday and will culminate with the O&W Game on Saturday. While the Vols are in his Top 5 despite being the only school on that list he has yet to visit, Clemson currently holds the lead with Ohio State and NCSU also near the top. Tennessee will hope to impress him and set itself up in this recruitment for the long haul
DB Tyus Fields: Yet another highly recruited CB, Fields is returning to Knoxville after just having visited in late March (along with a visit last summer). He’s smaller than Hill and Battle but makes up for it with toughness and ball skills. Fields has a brother at Clemson, and the Tigers have offered; however, his current Top 5 is UNC, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Ohio State and Penn State
ATH Devin Boddie: A high-academic kid (offers from UVA, Vandy, and GT) who is making his second trip to Rocky Top since March despite not holding a Vol offer, Boddie is listed as an Athlete but likely is being recruited by Tennessee as a WR. He’s also getting interest from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, and Miami, and could emerge further if he has a big camp season and follows it up with a strong senior year. It’s good for Tennessee to get him to campus again so they can continue to evaluate him and “keep him warm”
DB Keveon Mullins: Recently committed to hometown Memphis despite multiple SEC and P5 offers, Mullins is a good looking big-bodied DB prospect. It’s unclear if he is taking this visit just to hang out with his Memphis Whitehaven teammates or if there is genuine interest from either party. We’ll see what he has to say after comparing his official visit to Memphis with seeing more people at a Spring Game in Neyland Stadium than he would ever see in Liberty Bowl Stadium (unless Tennessee was playing there)
OL Melvin McBride: A large OG prospect with some decent offers, it’s likely that the Tennessee staff will size McBride up while he’s on campus and go from there
Tennessee has been working the 2020 class hard, and as the aforementioned Austin Price has said multiple times it should be the class where Pruitt and is staff really break through. After hosting what was effectively a “Sophomore Day” last weekend, the Vols will entertain a smaller but no less impressive group of 2020 prospects:
DL Tyler Baron (Midstate)
LB Bryson Eason (Memphis Whitehaven)
LB Martavius French (Memphis Whitehaven)
OL Bryn Tucker (Knoxville)
DB Rashad Torence (Georgia)