When it comes to recruiting, Jeremy Pruitt will of course focus on the burgeoning instate talent base first and foremost, with Georgia as always being a major pipeline. Alabama and the Carolinas will likely be new areas that the staff seeks to mine that the prior staff struggled in, and the new staff’s recruiting prowess and relationships will mean that Tennessee is going to be back to recruiting elite prospects across the country from California to Florida. However, with the hire of David Johnson from Memphis as his new WR Coach, Pruitt now has a real opportunity to make Louisiana a priority state as well.
Johnson, who attended Nicholls State in Thibodaux, LA before spending nearly a decade in the high school coaching ranks in his hometown of New Orleans, also spent four seasons coaching at Tulane. His reputation as a recruiter is incredibly strong, and his ties in the state are extensive. In fact, in two years on the Memphis staff he’s signed 5 players from there including Damonte Coxie, an LSU commitment who had his offer pulled just before National Signing Day in 2016 and made his way to Memphis through a connection between Johnson and Coxie’s high school coach. There’s also Jonathan Wilson, a New Orleans native who signed with Tulane after being recruited there by Johnson and then decided to follow him to Memphis and has started on their defensive line since his freshman year. In the 2018 cycle Johnson signed 3 Louisiana natives in December and has one more unsigned commitment from the state.
Johnson won’t be walking into a situation where his area of strongest connections are fresh ground for Tennessee. Robert Gillespie has been working Louisiana for a long time himself, and has been making real hay down there. In 2017 in fact Tennessee signed three prospects from Louisiana in DBs Cheyenne Labruzza and Terrell Bailey as well as RB Trey Coleman. And though the 2018 class doesn’t yet include any Pelican State natives, the staff has Jumbo ATH Glenn Beal, DB Eddie Smith, and OLB/DE Michael Williams in their crosshairs. Beal already has Tennessee as his stated leader and Smith and Williams are currently in Knoxville on their official visits. One would think the addition of Johnson to the staff can only help the Vols with these three. Whether he can get Tennessee into the mix with elite WR Jamarr Chase, another LA native, remains to be seen. Chase is at LSU this weekend and the Tigers will undoubtedly be trying to lock him down. But Johnson was doing his best with Chase while at Memphis, and there is one more OV to be scheduled, so you can be sure he will try here.
LSU will always be the big dog in the state, and other powers, especially Alabama of late, will always recruit the state heavily. However, there is an incredible amount of talent to go around in the state and in the class of 2019 alone seven Louisiana prospects ranked in the top 10 nationally at their positions.
Johnson also has relationships with high school coaches and prospects in Memphis, particularly one would assume with WRs in the Bluff City. And fortunately for Tennessee, Memphis is home to three bigtime 2019 prospects in WR Shamar Nash, DE Eric Gregory and DT Trevis Hopper. And the 2020 class also features stud WR Darin Turner, who will be a national recruit.
Johnson completes what can only be described as an elite recruiting staff, and his ties to Louisiana as well as Memphis complement the relationships that the rest of the assistants bring across the South and the rest of the country. Look for Tennessee to make Louisiana more of a priority moving forward and for the tag-team of Johnson and Gillespie to start pulling bigtime players from the state almost immediately.