A year after Tennessee head coach Butch Jones struggled to keep instate players at home, he’s racking up on the trail in the Volunteer State in the 2018 cycle.
That trend continued Friday with the pledge of 4-star Chattanooga [Baylor School] safety Brendon Harris, who is an elite defensive back coveted by top teams in the country such as Clemson, Georgia, Alabama and Ohio State. In the end, he cited “loyalty” as a reason for committing to the Vols.
Harris is 6’1″, 205 pounds and hits like a linebacker. He’s super-intelligent and is also fast and very good in coverage. On 247Sports, he’s the 151st-rated overall player in the country and in the top 70 on Rivals. Though he’s not quite a can’t-miss star, he’s close, and he comes from a program in Chattanooga that has been very good to the Vols in the past. His defensive coordinator with the Red Raiders is former UT great Eric Westmoreland.
Harris is the sixth pledge for the Vols from Tennessee in an ’18 class that is loaded within state borders, joining 5-star lineman Cade Mays, 4-star receiver Alontae Taylor, 4-star defensive tackle Brant Lawless, 3-star offensive lineman Ollie Lane and 3-star safety Shatar McClay. Major targets such as 4-star defensive end Greg Emerson, 4-star running back Master Teague, 4-star offensive lineman Jerome Carvin, 3-star tight end Jacob Warren and 3-star linebacker Cam Jones, among others, remain on the board. It could be a year where the Vols wind up with 12-14 Tennessee boys to fill out a class.
This is huge news for Jones, who obviously has pushed the right buttons repairing any rocky relationships with prospects with these new assistant coaching hires. Tommy Thigpen still has a presence instate, but the additions of Walt Wells and Charlton Warren are paying dividends. Harris developed a relationship with Warren that was big for the Vols. Though Clemson and Ohio State were pushing Harris hard, he is a Tennessee boy who wanted to play for his home state.
That’s the message Jones is selling, and kids are listening. Last year, that wasn’t the case. Thus far, the only Volunteer State prospects that Tennessee desperately wanted and haven’t landed are offensive lineman Max Wray (Ohio State) and 4-star defensive end Jordan Davis of Memphis. The Vols are still trying hard to flip Davis, and he’s visited Knoxville recently, despite being firm to the Crimson Tide. Though getting Teague over Georgia and Auburn may be a battle, UT is heavy favorites for its other top instate targets.
On the field, this is a major win for Warren, who needs to revamp the secondary. The Vols should be able to find some playmakers among rookies Shawn Shamburger, Cheyenne Labruzza and Terrell Bailey at cornerback from the ’17 class. Then, Maleik Gray is an elite safety prospect, and Theo Jackson looks like a safety all the way, too. Add Harris into the fray along with Gray, Jackson and rising sophomore Nigel Warrior, and Tennessee looks extremely athletic on the back end.
Maybe with Willie Martinez gone, those guys may actually develop. The Vols paid Warren big money to get him away from North Carolina, and are banking on that.
As for today’s pledge, Harris is massive on many different levels. Right now, Tennessee remains extremely hot in recruiting, even though it lost Jashaun Corbin earlier this week. The Vols have a lot of momentum, and they should keep it going.