Tennessee has the opportunity to meet a major need in the 2018 recruiting class without leaving state borders, and the first step toward achieving that massive portion of this year’s haul happened Monday night.
Brant Lawless, a 4-star defensive tackle out of Nashville Christian School, pledged to Tennessee over offers from Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Oklahoma and others. Looking for an elite player with an elite offer sheet? Lawless provides that, giving the Vols one of their two biggest pledges of the ’18 class so far.
As the Vols continue building this class, they also remain in good shape with 4-star defensive tackle D’Andre Litaker of Murfreesboro and 4-star strong-side defensive end Greg Emerson of Jackson. The Vols are also trying hard to flip Jordan Davis of Memphis, who is committed to Alabama but listening to UT, according to VolQuest.com’s Brent Hubbs.
All three of those guys remain major targets for the Vols, but a big-time domino fell Monday with Lawless’ pledge. The 6’3″, 285-pound interior lineman is rated as the country’s No. 25 defensive tackle according to the 247Sports Composite, and that elevates to No. 18 at his position in 247Sports. He’s also one of the nation’s top 300 players overall, and many of the country’s top programs would love to have him as one of the anchors of the class.
Lawless is explosive from the center of the line, and he has the ability to be a complete tackle, stopping the run and getting after the passer from the inside. He was a teammate of UT sophomore linebacker Daniel Bituli, and his first look at Tennessee came with Bituli on a trip. Since then, the Vols have pursued Lawless, making him a priority. They’ve been considered a favorite for a while, and Lawless ended the process early.
Now, it’s time for the peer recruiting to ramp up. Lawless, Litaker and Emerson are all close, and they group chat with each other. They’ve developed a bond with one another, and they’ve discussed playing together in college. Perhaps most importantly, all have developed relationships with UT defensive line coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Bob Shoop. The Hoke hire may wind up being the ideal hire at the perfect time for the Vols. Many of the top targets on the defensive front seem enamored with him. Lawless talked about the assistant’s passion, their relationship and his spirituality.
Now, Lawless is looking toward getting his buddies in orange, according to Scout.com’s Danny Parker.
— Danny Parker (@TheDannyParker) May 1, 2017
After struggling to land many of its top targets from inside state boundaries in the 2017 class, Tennessee is doing a lot to batten down the hatches this year and in the future. Already in the ’19 class, UT has commitments from four in-state targets. This year, the Vols can outfit much of their haul with Volunteer State players, and guys like Litaker, Emerson, Smith, Cam Jones and Cam Johnson could go a long way toward doing that.
Already, UT has commitments from offensive linemen Cade Mays and Ollie Lane, receiver Alontae Taylor and cornerback Shatar McClay from Tennessee in this year’s class. Quarterback Michael Penix, running back Jashaun Corbin, receiver Jatavious Harris and Mississippi cornerback Jaylon Reed round out a class that has surged to 13th nationally on 247Sports and second in the SEC.
Lawless loved the family atmosphere in Knoxville. “The main factor, it was just something about it just gave me that good feeling all the coaches made you feel at home,” he told 247Sports’ Barton Simmons.
Tennessee’s renewed focus instate has been a group effort. New assistants Walt Wells and Hoke are helping, and Tommy Thigpen had a hand in Lawless’ recruitment, too. With all the talent in the state, UT can line its class with stud prospects from close by if it continues to excel at home. Getting Lawless is a huge domino, and the peer recruiting could really get this year rolling.
The Vols now need to continue the momentum into the summer months. With Litaker possibly expected to do something soon, the good news may continue to flow. Lawless was a massive piece of the puzzle.