Tennessee closed out a once-shaky class with a strong finish on National Signing Day. Understandably, coach Butch Jones was pleased.
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Jarrett Guarantano wasn’t the first 2016 commitment, but he was important
Guarantano signed with the Vols on Wednesday. However, the four-star quarterback had been committed to Tennessee since February 2015 and a vocal supporter of the Vols via social media.
“Getting a quarterback to commit early was very big for us because you talk about the quarterback position and one of the intangible traits you look for is the leadership qualities,” Jones said during a press conference on Wednesday. “Jarrett Guarantano has those leadership qualities and he was able to build relationships with future teammates and peers, and that helped.”
Even though he always seemed firmly committed, Jones said there was a persistent battle to fend off other schools.
“Here’s a young man that could have gone anywhere in the country and had everyone pawing on him, even in the last week in recruiting,” Jones said. “He didn’t take one other official visit and he stayed true to his word.”
Despite a staff shakeup, the Vols closed out strong
With just a few short weeks until National Signing Day, the Vols were able to utilize two coaches to their best ability: defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and tight ends coach Larry Scott. Shoop helped the Vols secure Jonathan Kongbo. Scott helped the Vols recruit Florida, from which they’ve secured five signees.
“We’ve always made a concentrated effort in the state of Florida and everything is about relationships,” Jones said. “Our coaches that have recruited that area have done a tremendous, tremendous job. Obviously, the addition of Larry Scott helped it.”
Tennessee was confident it would land Jonathan Kongbo — sort of.
Kongbo surprised several schools when he signed nearly two hours before his originally scheduled announcement. That worked out well for the Vols.
“[I was] confident because of the relationships that have been built over a long period of time,” Jones said. “We knew that this was a place that Jonathan felt very comfortable. He had established great relationships with a lot of our current players and (running backs coach) Robert Gillespie did a tremendous job in his recruitment so I felt very confident, but you never know.”
Even with last-second developments, stability was key
Kongbo and the rest of Tennessee’s late commitments will get most of the publicity following National Signing Day. However, a foundation was already in place. The Vols had all but four of their eventual signees committed before Wednesday.
“A lot of these individuals have been committed for a very, very long period of time and they all maintained their commitment,” Jones said. “This class became very strong. They became galvanized over time and that’s a tribute to the character of the individuals coming into our football program.”
The Vols aren’t afraid to recruit a different type of offensive lineman
Tennessee’s three offensive line signees only average 267 pounds. Despite the shortcomings in size, Jones said he’s confident his program will be able to add weight to the three players once they arrive on campus.
“We felt we needed tackle-type bodies,” he said. “We felt we needed to improve our wingspan and all that involved.”
Jones also seemed to imply that the Vols are building for the future with signees that may not be needed as quickly as in recent seasons.
Legacy still matters
The Vols have a fortunate, recent history of picking up signees with family ties to the program. That continued on Wednesday when four-star safety Nigel Warrior followed in the footsteps of his father, former Tennessee defensive back Dale Carter.
“One of the best players in the state of Georgia, to be able to add him, a legacy football player,” Jones said. “He brings a lot to the table, his energy, his passion, his football intelligence, his love for the game can’t be measured.”
Jones certainly gave no indication that Warrior would be the last legacy Vol. In fact, he invited more.
“The University of Tennessee means a lot to him,” Jones said. “When you bring legacy players in, that helps.”
All player ranking and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.