Tennessee has dominated recruiting in the Carolinas at times. However, it will be a greater challenge than ever to sign elite prospects from North and South Carolina — a key area for the Vols.
Just take a look at the Vols’ 1998 National Championship team. Key prospects from the Carolinas played huge roles in securing a title. Every Tennessee starting defensive lineman was either from North or South Carolina.
In the mid 1990s, the Vols had two South Carolina natives on their coaching staff, making recruiting in the area a focal point. Defensive line coach Dan Brooks usually began the recruiting process while defensive coordinator John Chavis was the closer, often times securing commitments just before National Signing Day. Things have changed. Chavis is the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and Brooks is the defensive line coach at Clemson.
That’s not the only coaching transition that makes recruiting in the Carolinas more difficult for Tennessee. North Carolina had success in the mid-1990’s under Mack Brown, but was always considered a basketball school, which the Vols used to their advantage.
At South Carolina, Brad Scott struggled during that time and the Vols clearly benefitted. The Gamecocks were 23-32-1 during Scott’s tenure from 1994-1998. Clemson was a shadow of its current self. Led by Tommy West, the Tigers were a far cry from being a national power. Under West from 1993-1998, the Tigers were 31-28.
All of that opened the door for Tennessee. Now, things are much more challenging. Larry Fedora has the Tar Heels on the right track after an 11-3 season. South Carolina has a well-respected recruiter in Will Muschamp. And, of course, Clemson just played for the national title with a fun-loving head coach that prospects gravitate to.
So what can the Vols expect to get out of the Carolinas? Probably not as much as they once did, but still some success. In February, Tennessee signed only one high school prospect from the area: four-star defensive back Marquill Osborne from Cornelius, N.C. In Butch Jones’ previous two classes, the Vols signed five prospects from the Carolinas, led by four-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle from Lexington, N.C., in 2015.
Under Jones, the Vols have had an impressive run considering the competition in the Carolinas. However, it hasn’t been perfect.The Vols missed out on two of their top three prospects in North Carolina. Offensive lineman Landon Dickerson from South Caldwell High School (Hudson, N.C.) signed with Florida State. Running back B.J. Emmons from Freedom High School (Morganton, N.C.) signed with Alabama. So despite the improved football in the region, it is still possible to pull top prospects from the area – for now. That may change.
The Tar Heels have four of the five top prospects in North Carolina already committed.
Clemson signed six of the top 14 prospects in North and South Carolina in February.
There are a handful of targets this season, such as linebacker Justin Foster from Crest High School (Shelby, N.C.) and defensive tackle Grant Gibson from Mallard Creek (Charlotte, N.C.)
Times have certainly changed when it comes to recruiting the Carolinas. The Vols have proven they can compete, but they’ve lost some battles as well. With the recent ascension of the major three programs in the Carolinas, things don’t figure to get any easier.
All player ranking and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.