Headed Towards a Big Cookout Weekend, Vols Combining Faith in Evals with Elite National Recruiting

As we move towards the final June weekend before a month-long dead period, things certainly have changed a lot since we previewed a consequential month for Tennessee’s 2020 class.  So far during June the Vols have picked up three commitments – running the total to nine – from OL Javontez Spraggins, his high school teammate S Antonio Johnson, and CB Lovie Jenkins.  Tennessee also hosted an incredibly large number of high level prospects during the first half of the month – “takes,” if you will – and expanded its overall board in an impressive fashion.  The month of June has seen two themes in Tennessee’s recruiting strategy under Coach Jeremy Pruitt that were at least slightly evident from the moment he took the job in January 2018: 1) A very high degree of faith in his and his staff’s own evaluations, regardless of ranking, combined with 2) A recognition of the necessity of and improving success in competing with the absolute best of the best for blue chip talent.

As evidence of the first theme, while Johnson is a 4-star with multiple high level offers, Spraggins, earlier commitment WR Jimmy Calloway, and to a slightly lesser extent Jenkins (who does boast more than 40 offers, including some from programs like the local Miami Hurricanes), are guys who the Tennessee staff is higher on, based on their own evaluations, than the rankings services and to a lesser extent other power programs.  Like the 2019 class, in which signees like Roman Harrison, Chris Akporoghene, Jerrod Means, Elijah Simmons, and Kenny Solomon earned Tennessee offers at least partially based on their respective camp performances, Pruitt and his staff are clearly comfortable and confident in their ability to identify players who they think can win SEC and National titles and fit into their systems.  Whether that comes to fruition or not remains to be seen.  However, when some of the aforementioned guys end up earning either/both of ranking upgrades (e.g., Harrison ending up a 4-star) and offers from other major programs (e.g., both Texas and Michigan and Florida State trying to get Akporoghene to take official visits) that is a compelling positive sign.

When it comes to going head to head with the nation’s current dominant programs, Pruitt served notice that this would be his strategy from his opening press conference, and backed his words up with action immediately in his efforts to build his first, stub class.  While he was ultimately unsuccessful in going after 5-star CBs Olaijah Griffin and Isaac Stuart-Taylor – both of whom signed with USC – Pruitt did beat out the likes of Clemson for Treveon Flowers and Alabama for Dominic Wood-Anderson and JJ Peterson.  The 2019 class featured a heavy dose of wins like that, and the 2020 cycle is an acceleration of the success of that strategy. 

The list below includes players for whom Tennessee is under heavy consideration for (with Vol commitments in bold and flip candidates in italics) for whom they are going head to head with powers like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State and (hate to say it) Georgia, along with bigtime national programs like USC, Miami, Texas, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Florida, Auburn, Texas A&M and the like:

QB Harrison Bailey

QB Haynes King

TE Arik Gilbert

TE Darnell Washington

TE Eric Shaw

ATH Damarcus Beckwith

OL Marcus Dumervil

OL Chris Morris

OL Cooper Mays

OL James Robinson

OL Xavier Hill

OL Deandre Buford

WR Arian Smith

WR Rakim Jarrett

WR Thaiu Jones-Bell

WR Javon Baker

WR JJ Evans

WR EJ Williams

RB TY Jordan

RB Tank Bigsby

RB Tee Hodge

RB Caziah Holmes

DL Dominic Bailey

DL Omari Thomas

DL Justin Rogers

DL Trevonn Rybka

DL Darrion Henry

DL Tyler Baron

DL Jay Hardy

DL Deonte Craig

DL Noah Sewell

LB Phillip Webb

LB Kourt Williams

LB Len’neth Whitehead

LB Reggie Grimes

LB De’rickey Wright

LB Morven Joseph

LB Romello Height

S Keshawn Lawrence

S Antonio Johnson

CB Art Green

CB Mike Harris

CB Kendal Dennis

CB/S Mordecai McDaniel

CB Joel Williams

CB Kitan Crawford

That’s obviously an incredibly long list of players to be in on that are also legitimately being pursued by the kind of programs that Tennessee aspires to get back to the level of, and is indicative of not just the cachet that the program still has nationwide but also the type of recruiting staff that Pruitt has put together.  The additions of well-known stud recruiters like Tee Martin, Derrick Ansley, and Jim Chaney (QBs, especially) to an already high-level existing staff and head coach is clearly paying immediate dividends.  Pruitt has expanded the reach of the program to Texas and California while also delving back into formerly profitable but recently ignored territory like North Carolina, all the while keeping a strong focus instate as well as regionally in Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.  Going after these kinds of players will more often than not end in failure, as recruiting is a zero sum game.  But doing so at the level and volume that Tennessee is currently in the 2020 class – especially with the kind of staff it has – while supplementing with its own evaluations – is the only winning strategy when the goal is to compete for championships.  That’s a simple fact that Pruitt clearly gets and is executing on.

The Vols will look to close out the month with another big visit weekend, hosting multiple highly sought after prospects for a cookout in Knoxville.  As of mid-week, Tennessee is expecting to have at a few important official visitors: WR (and soft LSU commit) Rakim Jarrett, RB Caziah Holmes DE/TE Blayne Toll, and OL Richie Leonard, while the unofficial guest list includes QB commitment Harrison Bailey, OLB BJ Ojulari, ILB Romello Height, and RB Tee Hodge (back for a second weekend in a row).  Potential visitors who the Vols are working hard to get back to campus are TE Arik Gilbert, DT Octavius Oxendine, WR (and AU commit) JJ Evans, CB Janari Dean, and frequent local visitors OL Cooper Mays and DE Tyler Baron.  Others of course are likely to join the list for what could be a bigtime weekend and a punctuation mark on what has already been a very profitable month for Tennessee recruiting and what could turn out to be much moreso in the coming weeks.

Something else to watch for Vol coaches and fan will be Alabama’s simultaneous cookout in Tuscaloosa on Friday. Several top Vol targets are expected to attend, including WR EJ Williams, OL Xavier Hill, OL James Robinson, OL Chris Morris, and DB Joel Williams.

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