Say what you want to about Butch Jones’ tenure thus far at Tennessee, but there’s no question the man is building a program through top-notch recruiting, redshirting and building depth.
There’s no place more evident of that than the offensive line, where Tennessee was in dire straits when Jones took over for Derek Dooley, who failed to sign a single offensive lineman in one recruiting class. Though Jones inherited a stable of quality linemen in his first year, the Vols had to rebuild that position from scratch after they all left for the NFL following the 2013 season.
Now, the Vols are deep and strong on the offensive front. That depth got even greater Sunday with the pledge of instate Ensworth High School offensive tackle Tanner Antonutti.
Though the Vols once tried to get Antonutti to grayshirt in this class, the 6’5″, 260-pound athlete who once played quarterback in his high school career before moving to tight end and growing into an offensive tackle, has seen his recruitment blow up recently.
Schools like Louisville, Mississippi State, Missouri and Georgia Tech coveted the Midstate prospect who grew up a Vols fan. But when LSU offered after a camp this summer, it became obvious that UT wasn’t just going to be able to convince a long-time fan to come to Knoxville without a full ride. That came recently, and after visiting this weekend, Antonutti decided he wanted to be part of what is going on at UT.
“It’s just absolutely a dream come true,” Antonutti told InsideTennessee’s Danny Parker. “After talking to (Tennessee) coach (Butch) Jones yesterday and then calling my mom and dad and talking things over with them, there was no other option beside UT is how I felt. I knew my heart was 100 percent committed to them and they were 100 percent committed to me. So I had to pull the trigger.”
The best part of this for the Vols is they can bring Antonutti along slowly, helping him add weight and build strength in time to redshirt and possibly play two or three years firmly in the rotation. That’s the way it’s supposed to be on the offensive front, and it’s exactly what the Vols can afford to do now.
If Antonutti can be 290 pounds or so by the time he arrives in Knoxville, that timeline could be escalated.
With Jerome Carvin still on Tennessee’s board and a definite take, the 3-star Antonutti gives the Vols another important cog in an already-strong offensive line class that includes 5-star Knoxville native Cade Mays and 3-star Knoxville native Ollie Lane. If the Vols can add 4-star Carvin, that’s an ideal follow-up to last year’s group. Carvin and Antonutti are almost certain tackles, while Mays could play guard or tackle and Lane projects to be a center.
The 2017 group included 5-star stud Trey Smith, who looks like a right-away starter for the Vols, along with tackle K’Rojhn Calbert and center Riley Locklear.
That just adds to crazy depth for the Vols along the front. Entering the 2018 season when Antonutti will be on campus, he, Mays, Lane and possibly Carvin will all be true freshmen. Perhaps Locklear and Calbert will be redshirt freshmen. Smith will be a sophomore, and redshirt sophomores will include Nathan Niehaus, Devante Brooks and Ryan Johnson. Juniors will include Marcus Tatum, Chance Hall (if he redshirts, as expected), Drew Richmond and Venzell Boulware. Then, the senior class will feature Jack Jones.
It’s also exactly the way you build a football program, with depth along the fronts. Antonutti is going to have the opportunity to be a good player for the Vols in time, and it’s a big get for UT simply because this is a kid who dreamed of playing for Tennessee, had big-time offers and decided to stay in state and work his way into an already-crowded rotation.
This is a big commitment for the Vols, who have an embarrassment of riches on the offensive front.