Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us daily at SEC Country for the latest Tennessee recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers. Check out previous editions here. In this edition, we discuss Tennessee and recruiting the in-state prospects.
The importance of in-state recruiting
That’s a lot of in-state talent for the Vols to work within the 2019 class. How well the team does with that talent will likely place the ceiling on how well the Vols can do in the class.
ESPN recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert agrees. He sees dominating the in-state athletes as one of the clearest paths back to national contention for the Vols.
“Good recruiting starts at home,” Haubert said during the Orange and White broadcast Saturday. “You’ve got to win the in-state. … Building a fence around your own borders is key.”
Jeremy Pruitt said in his introductory press conference and a few times since, the Vols will dominate in-state recruiting. He’s also stated he will recruit nationally.
That’s smart. Tennessee is a national brand that resonates when things are going well. Prospects’ parents will likely recall the dominance of the Big Orange in the 1990s as well.
I think it’s fair to at least be hesitant when it comes to Pruitt and the staff’s approach to recruiting the in-state prospects to this point. It might end up being similar to the approach LSU takes with Louisiana. The Tigers will recruit nationally and then come in late with some of the prospects trying for a last-second push.
Let’s break the 11 top 300 prospects into three groups: the committed, the priorities and the not so prioritized. The committed prospects are Hampton (LSU), defensive end Bill Norton (Georgia), guard Jackson Lampley (Tennessee) and Ani Izuchukwu (Mississippi State). I won’t dive too much into these, the first three seem solid in their pledges. Izuchukwu also wasn’t being recruited by Pruitt’s or Butch Jones’ staff.
There isn’t a bigger in-state priority than wide receiver Lance Wilhoite. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Nashville native ranks No. 66 in the ESPN rankings. He’s a prospect who would easily fit into the Vols system. He came to campus for the first time with Pruitt in charge two weeks ago. He stayed an extra day which caused him to miss the Clemson spring game.
I think if the Vols continue the constant recruitment of Wilhoite then he will probably end up in Knoxville. If he had to sign today, I’m not sure the pick would be Tennessee, though. I think he wants to be a Vol, he just needs to see the program headed in the right direction and needs to be kept a priority.
I’ll put inside linebacker Kane Patterson (No. 257) in the priority category, though other schools are recruiting him harder. Namely, Ohio State. The Nashville native has been hearing a lot from the Buckeyes. He’s another prospect that I think wants to be a Vol, although he needs to feel like he’s the guy from the staff. Terry Fair did visit him last Tuesday. The staff might be turning up the pressure on his recruitment.
I’ll lead this section off with wide receiver TJ Sheffield (No. 130). The Vols have barely communicated with him since the new staff got to campus in December. This might prove to be a big mistake. He’s receiving significant interest from Notre Dame. Ohio State is starting to recruit him harder.
If he’s good enough for Notre Dame or Ohio State, he should at least hear from the Tennessee staff. The argument against Sheffield is probably his 5-10, 170-pound frame which doesn’t fit offensive coordinator Tyson Helton’s scheme too well.
Sheffield is a solid player and former Tennessee commit. It’d be a mistake letting him leave without at least somewhat of a fight.
Wide receiver Trey Knox (No. 266) gets some attention from the school. He has a 6-4, 210-pound frame which would probably fit Helton’s system. Ohio State is recruiting him much harder right now, though. His former teammate at Blackman (Murfreesboro) High School, Master Teague, is recruiting Knox to the Buckeyes.
Defensive end Joseph Anderson (No. 272) hasn’t heard much of anything from the new coaching staff. South Carolina is the likeliest destination for him. Notre Dame and Arkansas have been in the mix, though.
Running back Eric Gray (No. 275) was hearing from the coaching staff a good bit. If former coach Robert Gillespie were still on staff I think Gray would be more of a priority. At 5-10, 184-pounds, he doesn’t fit the power-run system. He’s a solid player and I think Tennessee would have a shot if it pushed for him.
What it means
Tennessee is in a position to land two or three of the top 11 in the state, according to ESPN.
There are prospects who didn’t make the list who I think are underrated by these rankings. Defensive tackle Tymon Mitchell and cornerback Woodi Washington are hearing more from the Vols. Both are good players and if they received a solid push from the Vols I think they’d both end up in Knoxville.
SEC Country has been told cornerback Adonis Otey is planning a visit to Tennessee this weekend. The former Vols commit and current staff didn’t get off on the right foot. The staff appears to be working to mend the bridge.
At the end of the day, you have to trust your talent evaluation. If the in-state prospects aren’t good enough then it makes sense to look elsewhere. The previous staff seemed to take in-state players for the sake of it, and that’s not a way to compete at the highest level.
These are talented prospects, especially the 11 that made the rankings, who probably should receive a little more attention from the coaching staff. There’s time to turn the tide around. Players can’t even sign until late December.
This puts a lot of pressure on Tennessee to recruit well in Atlanta, North Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana. If I were trying to build momentum on the recruiting trail, I’d try to secure a couple of these prospects who grew up watching the home state team.
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