KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee welcomed a handful of top targets and a bunch of commits for perhaps its most important recruiting weekend before National Signing Day.
The Vols hosted prized 4-star defensive line targets LaBryan Ray and Elijah Conliffe, as well 4-star tailback Travis Etienne, 3-star end Ryan Thaxton and 3-star receiver JaVonta Payton. Several of Tennessee’s top 2017 commits were on hand, too, including 4-star safety Maleik Gray, 4-star tailback Ty Chandler, 4-star defensive tackle Eric Crosby and receiver Jordan Murphy.
Here are some quick thoughts and takeaways …
Vols make a move for standout DT?
Tennessee made a strong impression on 4-star Virginia defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe. The Hampton product doesn’t do a ton of media interviews, but Conliffe briefly told SEC County that he had a good trip. The nation’s No. 303 prospect enjoyed hanging out with player-host Kahlil McKenzie.
My Family And I Loved our Time In Knoxville this Weekend ?✊?? Thank You @k_Mac_99
— Elijah Conliffe (@ElijahPrime) January 15, 2017
Conliffe, who plans to announce a decision on Jan. 31, will take an official visit to Florida this weekend. With Alabama short on spots, Tennessee seems to have moved into the driver’s seat for Conliffe.
Decision on the horizon for Virginia DE?
While the Vols gained some momentum with Conliffe, they made an even stronger push for another defensive lineman from Virginia.
St. Stephen’s (Va.) defensive end Ryan Thaxton previously planned to make a decision closer to NSD, but after a memorable first trip on Rocky Top, Thaxton is poised to join Tennessee’s 2017 class sometime this week. It’s unclear if he’ll still visit Ole Miss or NC State. Also, it will be interesting to see how Thaxton’s imminent decision impacts a guy like Aaron Sterling.
Long shots or realistic targets?
Tennessee impressed both tailback Travis Etienne and defensive end LaBryan Ray over the weekend. Ray has a strong connection with the Vols’ staff, most notably with quality control assistant coach Walt Wells, who previously recruited Ray’s brother to Western Kentucky.
Ray has visited Tennessee several times, too, so comfort level is high for the top 50 defensive end. Still, most believe the Vols trail Alabama for Ray. He’ll take an official visit to Tuscaloosa this weekend and then a trip to Florida at the end of the month. The Crimson Tide are confident in keeping the state’s No. 1 player at home, per SEC Country sources.
As for Etienne, the Vols continue gaining ground with the 4-star tailback from Jennings (La.). He’s intrigued by the chance to play early at Tennessee and enjoyed spending time with tailback commits Trey Coleman and Ty Chandler.
Yeah, dat way… pic.twitter.com/PRIPUTK4wv
— Travis Etienne Jr⁶? (@swaggy_t1) January 15, 2017
The former Texas A&M commit reportedly will visit Clemson this weekend instead of Texas A&M. He’s set for an official visit to LSU the final weekend of January.
While the Vols made a move, the Bayou Tigers remain the front-runner here. They’ve made Etienne a priority ever since Cam Akers committed to Florida State. They’re the home-state school, they get the final visit, and LSU staffers are scheduled to go in-home with Etienne on Monday.
WR board still up in the air
A pair of uncommitted receivers were in town over the weekend: 3-star Josh Palmer (St. Thomas Aquinas, Fla.) and 3-star JaVonta Payton (Hillsboro, Tenn.).
Palmer is teammates with Tennessee defensive line commit Kivon Bennett, who also tripped to Knoxville for an official visit. Palmer was recently a Syracuse commit, but reopened his recruitment right before coming to Tennessee. He’s now viewed as a UCLA-lean, but what happens if Tennessee puts on the full-court press?
Same thing for Payton, an in-state talent Tennessee has kept tabs on for months. Payton told SEC Country that the staff didn’t discuss numbers or spots with him.
They delivered a message of family, fit and possibly playing early, but it remains unclear if the Vols actually end up signing another receiver. A lot appears to depend on how comfortable they are on the academics of a couple commits, as well as if Tyler Byrd ends up moving to corner.
With NSD coming quickly, a lot of tough decisions must be made over the next few weeks.
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