Tennessee’s football team still has a losing record.
However, Tennessee’s previous 2-3 record seems much different than its current 3-4 stand when it comes to recruiting. The rejuvenated Vols have left an impression.
Recruiting whispers were everywhere after the Vols blew their third game of five to start the season. Who could blame the doubters? Tennessee lost its games in grand fashion, with leads of 13 points or more in each. It was ugly.
Sure, Tennessee coach Butch Jones could ramp up academics, instill discipline and incite optimism in the fan base, but could he compete for championships?
Fans and prospects had questions about in-game management. The Vols seemed to be too conservative in losses to Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas. That’s not fun football. Prospects and their families grew concerned about Jones’ ability to win.
Those concerns have subsided after the Vols beat UGA and stood toe-to-toe with Alabama. So does that have an effect on recruiting?
“Yes, it does,” 4-star cornerback Marquez Callaway (Warner Robins, Ga.) said.
The UGA win was a game Tennessee fans will never forget. Even in a loss to Alabama, there was still optimism. The Vols were close to their biggest upset in more than a decade.
“I think they’re just a few plays away from making big things happen,” 5-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown said. “It makes you feel like they’re a few plays away so you could help them close that gap.”
Under Jones, Tennessee has had plenty to sell to prospects. Facilities, fan support and a family atmosphere were always on the list. Early playing time topped it. With so many underclassmen playing key roles, Tennessee’s best selling point has lost its luster. Meanwhile, continually losing important games was beginning to erode the Vols’ recruiting momentum.
Things have changed. Now the Vols are perceived as a team that not only can play with the best teams in the country, but can also band together.
“I see that the players have really bought in, how they play together as a team,” junior receiver Tee Higgins. “They don’t give up. They always fight to the end.”
Higgins, a 4-star receiver from Oak Ridge High (Tenn.), said Tennessee’s recent performances will show up in recruiting.
“It should help a lot,” said Higgins, who is committed to Tennessee and is actively recruiting other prospects for the Vols.
Tennessee has five games left this season. A respectable 1-1 run has helped the Vols in recruiting. Imagine what a 5-0 run could do.
“They’re a great school, good education, good coaches,” Callaway said. “They say they’re rebuilding. It’s about to take off.”