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 its recruitment of linebacker Osita Ekwonu.
Aiming high at linebacker
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt knows how to compete at the highest level. Now he has to recruit at the highest level. This is evident in the linebackers the Vols pursued in the Class of 2018 and is carrying over for the 2019 class.
The Vols have begun their pursuit of Class of 2019 inside linebacker Osita Ekwonu. His film has been catching the eye of many college coaches. Pruitt is no exception.
When the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Ekwonu describes what he does best on the field, it’s easy to see why Pruitt likes him.
“The way I compete every play,” Ekwonu told SEC Country when asked about his strengths. “I want to win every possible aspect of every single play. I think that’s definitely what coaches like to see on my film. And going out and attacking the ball carrier.”
That quote could very well be from Pruitt in describing what he wants from his linebackers. Tennessee wants big, physical, athletic linebackers to control the field. In Pruitt’s 3-4 defensive scheme, the linebackers have the most responsibility.
Ekwonu’s Hudl tape does back what he believes he does best at linebacker. He zips around the field and dominates each highlight.
Ekwonu rates as a 4-star prospect and ranks as the No. 6 inside linebacker in the class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Once Pruitt has his linebacker core in place it’ll take the defense to another level with the amount of flexibility available for blitzes and coverages.
Think of Tennessee’s 41-0 loss to Georgia or the 45-7 loss at Alabama in 2017. Both teams swarmed the Vols offense and stifled seemingly every play from the snap. This is Pruitt’s vision for Tennessee’s defense. It is why the addition of JJ Peterson in the Class of 2018 was so important. Adding a player such as Ekwonu helps move toward the goal.
Fairly open recruitment
Tennessee offered Ekwonu in early February. This hasn’t set the Vols too far behind, though. All of Ekwonu’s 20 offers have come in 2018, according to 247Sports.
“Recently, my recruiting just blew up,” Ekwonu said. “Since then, I’ve been talking with all the coaches and weighing all my options. At the moment, I really don’t have a leader.
“It feels amazing. To see all the hard work I put in pay off in the offseason and the passion on the field pay off is truly a blessing.”
This makes Tennessee’s pursuit of a visit very important. A visit to Knoxville is something the coaches push with Ekwonu when they speak.
“I haven’t scheduled a visit yet,” Ekwonu said. “It’s something that would be a really cool experience, to see a really great program like Tennessee up close.”
Ekwonu, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., has only visited in-state schools in Wake Forest, North Carolina and Duke. He plans to visit more out-of-state schools in the coming months.
Ekwonu says he wants to play against the best competition, wherever that might be. When you hear that, it’s difficult not to think about the SEC.
“[Playing in the SEC] is something I would value,” Ekwonu said. “The SEC is full of great competition and it’s highly competitive. That’s something I enjoy.”
Ekwonu holds other SEC offers from Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt.
He wants to make a commitment in August before his senior season begins.
Update on elite linebacker Owen Pappoe
Tennessee is aiming high at linebacker with Ekwonu. He isn’t the only one highly rated target, though. Owen Pappoe is a 5-star linebacker who the Vols hosted last Saturday.
Pappoe went to Auburn on Sunday and told SEC Country’s Benjamin Wolk his top two schools were Georgia and Auburn, in that order. He wants to have a decision made in May.
It appears Tennessee is sitting on the outside looking in without much time to it around. The visit to Knoxville was an important one, though. Pappoe came to campus in January, which I’ve been told was meant to be his last time to visit Rocky Top.
— Owen Pappoe (@opfreak15) March 3, 2018
Pappoe had real interest in the Vols early in high school, but he never clicked with Butch Jones and his staff. It might be too late for Pruitt to close the gap on Georgia and Auburn. He is trying, though. Pappoe is good enough to be the leader of an SEC defense.
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