As much as I wanted to make an awful Boyz II Men reference in that headline, it would have buried the news on just how important 4-star offensive tackle Wanya Morris‘s pledge to Tennessee was on Tuesday.
After all, not only is this the nation’s No. 46 overall player, the seventh-rated offensive tackle and a 6’6″, 293-pound physical specimen at a position of need from a powerhouse program loaded with talent in this and future classes, it also helps flip the narrative on new coach Jeremy Pruitt’s recruiting.
The Vols had a rousing early signing period in the last cycle, but, let’s face it: Pruitt and Co. needed a recruiting win. Tennessee was largely shut out of landing any marquee names other than stud linebacker J.J. Peterson in the late period, mostly going silent following the flip-of-the-calendar all-star games. This recruiting cycle hasn’t started with sterling momentum, either, scarred by Memphis defensive end Bill Norton visiting Knoxville and committing to rival Georgia on the day he returned home.
All the while, though, Pruitt has kept swinging for the fences. And, as my good buddy Dylan wrote earlier this week, it’s setting up to be a marvelous May for Tennessee. It got off to a rousing start on the first day with Morris’s commitment.
— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) May 1, 2018
The Grayson High School product out of Loganville, Georgia, had offers from virtually everybody in the nation, and it ultimately came down to Auburn. The topsy-turvy recruitment had its share of ups and downs and momentum swings, but, somehow, Tennessee turned Morris’s opinion in its favor for good with an official visit two weekends ago.
At the time, many recruiting pundits had Morris penciled in to the Tigers on the Plains’ loveliest village, despite UT holding early sway in the race to land his signature. Morris was expected to take his final official visit to Auburn this past weekend, which would have given the Tigers the final chance to convince him. But Morris must have made his mind up in Knoxville last weekend, because he chose not to make that visit.
Now, he says his recruitment is “over” and he’ll sign with Tennessee in December.
As we all know, this is recruiting. These are 17-year-old kids. There is a lot that can happen between now and then, especially considering the 2018 season doesn’t (at least on paper) look like it’s going to be a banner campaign on the field in Rocky Top. Auburn has some nice pieces on its roster and could contend with Alabama (and Mississippi State) in the West. Could that sway Morris’s decision?
It’s at least worth mentioning, but so is the fact that Morris said he’s done. Knoxville is where he wants to be, and while early playing time is obviously a massive factor on his agenda, so are relationships. Both he and his mother love Pruitt and offensive line coach Will Friend, who has a rich history of developing SEC linemen. The Vols have massive holes along the front and need building blocks around which to build their pro-style scheme.
Morris is one of the best early pledges they could have gotten. Now, much of the attention turns toward the nation’s top tackle in Darnell Wright, who loves Tennessee and Alabama and could make a decision before his senior season. Pairing the West Virginia lineman with Morris would be a massive coup, especially considering in-state lineman Jackson Lampley is already firmly in the fold.
Tennessee is still going to swing hard after Morris’s prep teammate and good buddy Owen Pappoe, one of the nation’s top linebackers who also made his choice today. Much like we’ve discussed with Morris, though, these are just verbal, non-binding commitments until they sign on the dotted line, and the first time that can happen is December.
Still, this is a huge early-cycle statement for Pruitt, who is still catching up on relationships in this cycle. He joins 4-star lineman Lampley, 4-star tight end Jackson Lowe, 3-star defensive tackle LeDarrius Cox and JUCO lineman Darrel Middleton as 2019 pledges.
With some players like linebacker Terrell Dawkins, cornerbacks Tyus Fields and Jaydon Hill, receiver Ramel Keyton and others feeling Tennessee right now, the Vols could wind up fleshing their class out with some big names soon. None will be bigger than Morris, who is an incredible piece to a class that’s only going to grow from here on.
This is an indication of the kind of recruiting battles Pruitt won while he was at Alabama. Hopefully, it’ll be one of many he pulls while the head coach at Tennessee.