KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Volunteer State is suddenly a hot-bed for top talent.
For the first time in the state’s history, Tennessee could potentially produce a trio of consensus 5-star prospects (Jackson offensive tackle Trey Smith, Oak Ridge receiver Tee Higgins and Oakland athlete Jacoby Stevens).
But how does UT keep these kids in-state?
With increased competition for guys like Higgins and Smith, the Vols are selling “a lifetime legacy” to in-state kids.
Stay home. Come to Tennessee. Win. Be remembered forever.
“In-state recruiting is everything,” fourth-year coach Butch Jones said Friday during the team’s annual Media Day.
“We have to find the right fit for the University of Tennessee. … But it all does start in-state. In-state recruiting is very, very important to us. There’s a responsibility that comes along with a young man staying in-state and playing here.”
With that said, Jones knows he must flip a recent trend, as too many in-state blue-chippers are headed elsewhere.
In 2016, Tennessee signed just two of the state’s top 15 prospects. The Vols 2017 class includes just four of the state’s top 20 recruits. While Lane Kiffin recently trolled Tennessee over its in-state struggles, the narrative could be reshaped in 2018.
“When a young man stays at home and represents his home state, his home institution, that’s a lifetime legacy,” Jones said.
“That’s something that you’re going to want to come live in this state and be remembered forever. To me, that’s what it’s all about.”
Jones is right. Tennessee is positioned today — picked to win the SEC East and compete for a potential spot in the College Football Playoff — because of the efforts of a number of former in-state prospects.
As many as 14 Tennessee kids could start for the Vols in 2016, as guys like Jalen Hurd, Derek Barnett, Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, Todd Kelly Jr., Josh Malone, Josh Smith and Jashon Roberston all served as the foundation for Tennessee’s rebuild.
“I’ve been proud of those guys,” Jones said.
“They’ve done exceptionally well. If you look at the turnaround of this football program — I don’t want to diminish the efforts of everyone associated with our program — but it’s all started with the Tennessee kids. It’s all started with our Tennessee players staying at home and wanting that responsibility and they’ve made a difference getting Tennessee football back.”
All rankings are provided by the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted.
Jesse Simonton covers Tennessee football and recruiting for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and SECCountry.com