The Vols are two weeks out from the season opener, a nationally televised contest against Georgia Tech in the brand new Mercedes Benz Dome in Atlanta. And while having the national attention that comes with the game, especially as the only game on Labor Day evening, is attractive, many including myself have questioned the idea of playing a team like Tech at all. From their unique triple option offense, preparation for which yields no down-the-road benefits, to their dangerous blocking schemes that put your defensive line at risk of injury, there are a lot of downsides to playing the Yellow Jackets. So why play this game at all?
Three very important reasons: 1. Recruiting. 2. Recruiting. 3. Recruiting.
The state of Georgia is consistently one of the best in the country when it comes to producing high level talent, and for years the Vols have had a lot of success recruiting the Peach State. Team 121 has fourteen scholarship players from the Peach State on the roster, and the Class of 2018 already boasts 5 commitments from Georgians, each of whom are big time prospects.
As part of the neutral site game, the Vols will be able to provide tickets (though not have contact with) to around 100 prospects and their families. For the current class, it’s a chance to show your current committed players and their families what their future “home” looks like and to further solidify the positive feelings that led to those commitments. With 2018 GA prospects the Vols are still recruiting, it’s a chance for Tennessee to show off in an unofficial capacity and get an extra “visit” from those players and then hopefully parlay that into at least one unofficial visit for a game in Neyland. For prospects in the classes of 2019 and beyond, it’s a chance for Butch and Co. to kick off relationships with players and show them and their families what Tennessee Football is all about.
Below are the players I think the Vols will be targeting to get to The Dome:
Current 2018 commitments from Georgia
- RB Anthony Grant (confirmed attendee)
- RB LJ Dixon
- WR Jatavious Harris
- DL Jamarcus Chatman
- S Trey Dean
2018 Uncommitted* Prospects
- CB Jaycee Horn
- DE Caleb Johnson
- DE Andrew Johnson
- DE Caleb Kelly
- DE Richard Jibunor
- DE Adam Anderson (a long shot, but he’s been to Knoxville this summer and is best friends with Chatman)
*I imagine the Vols will try to get guys committed elsewhere to come, like Azeez Ojulari (UGA), Caleb Tannor (UGA), and Tobe Umerah (Stanford). Can’t hurt…
Horn and Jibunor are two players in particular who Tennessee is fighting very hard for, both of whom the Vols are in two-team races for, and both of whom are targeting September decisions. If they can get those two to come for this game and then get at least an unofficial visit for a game in Neyland (Indiana State or UGA are the two home games in September) that would go a very long way.
Class of 2019
The Georgia class of 2019 is widely considered to be one of the best in the state in recent memory, and the Vols have already made inroads with a lot of top prospects. In particular, elite players the Vols would love to see in the Dome are RB Derrian Brown (Anthony Grant’s teammate), WR Ramel Keyton, and S Joseph Charleston (the younger brother of current Tennessee baseball player Jay Charleston). All of these prospects have been to Knoxville at least once and have a great deal of interest in Tennessee.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Tennessee do major outreach with some of the top local high school programs, even if the Vols aren’t currently in the running for their respective top players, as a way to engender goodwill with those coaches and administrators. That’s another way to use this game as a long-term building block for recruiting in this state, and as we know Butch Jones never misses a chance to get a leg up in recruiting.
Bottom line: This is a huge opportunity to get your program in front of Atlanta-area prospects in a very unique way. I expect there to be a Vol Walk like we saw last year in Bristol, to have about 75% of the stadium in Big Orange, and for the Vols to win convincingly against Tech. It should be a great atmosphere and should pay dividends for the Vols with recruits in the current class as well as 2019 and beyond. That’s why you play the game, now the Vols have to execute on and off the field. I’m confident they will.