The Georgia game was always the first home game that the Tennessee staff was targeting as a big recruiting weekend, but unfortunately it’s not as big of a game associated with the Vols were expecting or hoping for thanks to the disastrous start to the season. At 1-3 Tennessee is over a 3-touchdown underdog to the Dawgs and has slipped with many of its elite-level targets. The staff spent the off week broadening its board, and added a few more offers over the weekend in OT Alex Harrison and DL Tui Tuipulotu, two West Coast kids with multiple high level Pac-12 offers. The Vols also checked back in with dynamic ATH Jimmy Holiday, a TCU commitment from Mississippi who got a Tennessee offer over the summer. Importantly, Tennessee went all-in for the Whitehaven Three of Linebackers Martavius French (an Arkansas commitment), Tammarion McDonald (a Mississippi State commitment) and longtime Vol target Bryson Eason.
Despite the rough start, Tennessee will still be hosting a nice group of prospects in Knoxville over the weekend. Notably, the three Whitehaven LBs will be taking their official visits, the timing of which is certainly interesting from Tennessee’s perspective. Neither Arkansas nor Mississippi State can feel very comfortable with the state of their respective commitments at this point, nor can the Hawg staff like where this seems to be heading with Eason either. All three were on campus together over the summer for a 7on7 event but this will be each of their first times seeing a game. Expect the Vols to make a huge impression on all three, and even if none of them are on commitment watch this weekend it could be a matter of time. And with the state of Tennessee’s LB corps – lacking in bodies though full of young talent between Henry To’oto’to, JJ Peterson, Jeremy Banks, and Aaron Beasley –adding these three would absolutely upgrade the position starting immediately in 2020.
Bigtime DL target Omari Thomas also plans to join his fellow Memphians in tripping to Knoxville, though his will be a visit of the unofficial variety. This will allow the Vols to have an OV in its back pocket in December when the early signing period gets closer, which is a big deal. Thomas is reportedly close with the Whitehaven kids, particularly Eason, which makes them all being on campus together and even bigger deal. Thomas would be an absolutely massive get at a position of annual need, and Tennessee currently sits in a good spot for him. A successful weekend would go a long way toward locking him down.
Speaking of large DL, Alabama (soft) commitment Jayson Jones will be traveling to Knoxville for an unofficial visit after Vol TE Coach Brian Niedermeyer visited his school during the bye week. Jones is a massive human being – think freshman Vol DL Elijah Simmons but 6’6 instead of 6’0 – and is incredibly talented. The Vols will look to make a strong impression that convinces Jones to set up an return, official visit later in the fall.
The only other official visitor as of this writing will be Midstate native OLB Reggie Grimes. It’s been since January that Grimes has been to Knoxville, and right now South Carolina holds the lead for him with Alabama lurking. A Tide legacy, it’s well-known that were Alabama to give him the green light he’d commit there. But if they don’t, this is a Vols-Gamecocks battle. Interestingly, Tennessee’s staff has been wishy-washy when it comes to this recruitment, and though he’s a borderline 5-star ranked player based on his elite measurables he hasn’t exactly wowed people with his onfield performance. That said, he’s got the kind of size and speed combination that the Vols simply don’t have enough of across the roster, so the possibility of Pruitt and Ansley molding that very talented clay is very appealing.
Although it hasn’t been confirmed, one can assume that the Vol staff is trying very hard to get as many of the Tennessee commitments to Knoxville for the game. For one, it should be a great atmosphere and with it being a night game the entire day should be a great reminder of what is so special about Tennessee football. So to the extent that any of them are feeling the slightest bit hesitant about their commitments being back on campus will be a good thing. In addition, having Vol commitments do some peer recruiting with the uncommitted prospects on campus is always helpful.
It’s likely that more names will end up on the visitor list. Speculating at this point, but with the strong contingent of Memphians coming to town and with his OV to Texas A&M scheduled for the following weekend (although 3 are likely flying in for their OV), the Vols would love to get OL Chris Morris in for the game. Pruitt stopped by his game last Friday night after attending the Whitehaven game, so it’s entirely possible that there could be a little momentum here for a prospect who’s been assumed to be an Aggie lean since the summer. DL Jay Hardy has been at each of Tennessee’s home games so far this season and is as strong of a Vol lean as there is on Tennessee’s board – getting him here again for a big game will be important, especially since he could be close to making a decision in light of his injury suffered last Friday night. LB/RB Len’neth Whitehead is fresh of his OV to South Carolina, which came off the heels of an UV he took to Columbia two weeks prior, and the Gamecocks have made a move there. The Vols would love to get the Athens native back in town to see what presumably will be a much better atmosphere than he saw on his OV for the Georgia State game and in turn try to turn that recruitment back in its favor. Finally, WR Arik Gilbert, for whom the Vols appear to have faded a bit thanks to the poor onfield performance so far this season, is probably a longshot to come. But given that both of his presumed current leaders – Alabama and Clemson – are off this week and his two other finalists are playing in Knoxville, along with the fact that (hopefully) his two committed teammates will be driving up, perhaps Tennessee can convince him to visit.
Two other OVs to watch this weekend are bigtime Vol target OLB Tyler Baron visiting Ohio State – the Vols main competitor – and new OL target Harrison visiting Nebraska.
It goes without saying that a strong showing on the field – just being competitive let alone winning – will go a long way towards showing recruits that Pruitt has this thing headed in the right direction. For those that are in attendance it will be even more important, especially when it comes to the atmosphere and showing them that Vol fans stick with their team no matter what and don’t let opposing fans take over Neyland Stadium. All of that remains to be seen, of course. But while this won’t necessarily be the star-studded visitor list that the Tennessee staff probably envisioned before the season started – one can imagine them trying to get guys like LB Noah Sewell and OLB Sa’vell Smalls and the like to see what a gameday experience in Knoxville is all about – there will still be a strong group of players in attendance. Making a move with all of them will go a long way towards securing Pruitt’s second straight recruiting class that significantly improves the roster for 2020 and beyond. n