Vols Continue to Bolster Offensive Line With Antonutti Commitment

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.

That’s crazy.

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.

One Comment

  1. Great article Brad.

    OL is by far the hardest position to recruit – there are just so many variables to project. Height, weight, foot speed, balance, strength, etc. All in kids who mostly have not had real weight training or skill development. Sure, every year there are a handful of Trey Smiths – no-brainer studs who even at 17 years old a layman can watch for two seconds and know that he’s looking at a future NFL player. However, while the NFL certainly has its share of former blue-chip OL recruits, due to the aforementioned difficulty in projecting the position it is also littered with guys who were lightly recruited, many of them due to the fact that they didn’t possess the ideal size coming out of high school.

    You often hear Butch talk about Eric Fisher, the high school TE he signed at Central Michigan who blossomed into the #1 overall pick as an OT a few years ago. However, there are many examples of guys like this – a poster on Volquest.com mentioned Missouri OT Paul Adams from CPA in Nashville and how back in 2013 the Vols couldn’t take him because despite having very apparent upside he wasn’t going to contribute for a few years and the Vols needed guys who could play immediately. He’s now one of the top OL in the conference.
    Most schools with designs on competing for conference titles and playoff berths, in the SEC no less, don’t have the luxury of taking a players who they know likely can’t help them right away. Because of what Butch has built on the OL the Vols now do have that luxury, and are leveraging it with Antonutti. Is there a guarantee that he ends up as the #1 overall pick or an All-SEC player? Of course not. But thanks to the depth and talent on the Vols roster (as well as the 2018 class already) Tennessee doesn’t have to potentially see that happen at a MAC school or a place like Missouri.

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