On the eve of tomorrow’s National Signing day, Tennessee Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt looks to cap off a hastily assembled recruiting class with a bang. With little time on the job and numerous challenges like the new early-signing period, the Vols coaching staff left no stone unturned in the search for top-end talent.
This past December marked the inaugural early signing period for college football recruiting. Rather than wait for February’s National Signing Day, prospects had the first-time opportunity to sign with their school of choice any time between December 20-22. The early signing period was widely criticized in college football circles, as current and newly hired coaches were left to juggle time spent recruiting with bowl preparations. In the case of newly hired Jeremy Pruitt, he had the unenviable task of playoff prep for the Alabama Crimson Tide while simultaneously recruiting as head coach for divisional rival Tennessee. An odd predicament to say the least.
In spite of this, when the dust settled on the early signing period Pruitt had inked 14 new players and taken the Vols decimated recruiting class from a team ranking outside the top 50 to a respectable 31 (according to 247Sports). Of these fourteen signees, three in particular illustrated the new staff’s impressive recruiting prowess.
Widely hailed as the number one ranked junior college tight end in the country, Dominick Wood-Anderson was a wanted man. With more than twenty offers from programs all over the country, the jumbo tight end chose the Vols after a late campus visit to Knoxville. To the surprise of many, Wood-Anderson chose Tennessee over presumptive favorite Alabama. In Pruitt’s first real head-to-head recruiting battle, the protege won out over his former boss and mentor.
Tennessee also received good news in the form of massive offensive lineman Jerome Carvin. The in-state offensive tackle from Cordova, Tennessee, was a priority target under the last coaching regime and remained one with the new staff’s arrival in December. The Vols survived a late push from Florida and Auburn, as new offensive line coach Will Friend inherited a 6’4, 330 pound road grader to pair with Freshman All-American Trey Smith.
Tennessee also kept another in-state prospect in the fold in speedy wide out Alontae “Tae” Taylor. A long-time verbal who decommitted in lieu of the Butch Jones firing, Pruitt turned up his pursuit of 122nd ranked player with a simple plea:
He just kept telling me to be a Julio Jones and stay in-state and represent it.
The Julio Jones pitch proved a successful one over late pleas from national champion runner-up Georgia, as Taylor signed and enrolled early with Tennessee.
GO BIG OR GO HOME
At his introductory press conference, Jeremy Pruitt gave Tennessee fans a simple directive with regards to recruiting: “Worry about the ones that you get, you don’t worry about the ones you don’t.” With a frenzied sprint towards National Signing Day that saw the Vols staff suddenly get in on and push for several highly-touted prospects, this simple proposition suddenly seemed long forgotten by the suddenly starry-eyed Vol faithful.
Let’s take a look at the following high-profile players the Vols remain in the hunt for on the eve of National Signing Day.
The LineBacker Duo
JJ Peterson – Outside Linebacker from Moultrie, GA
Seemingly no where in the picture one month and a Vols commitment the next, safe to say the Jeremy Pruitt hire had an impact on 44th ranked player JJ Peterson. A long-time Alabama lean, Peterson committed to Tennessee at the US Army All American game, emphasizing his comfort-level with Pruitt and new Tennessee Defensive Coordinator and former Georgia Bulldogs Linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer as key factors in his decision. It also didn’t hurt that Peterson’s high school coach was none other than head-butting, Two-a-Days, “Beat-the-piss-out-of-them” Rush Propst. Back in the day at Hoover high school, Rush Propst gave a fresh-faced and young coach a chance to lead his special teams. The coach was none other than Jeremy Pruitt.
Peterson is a hard-hitting linebacker who has incredible range and elite athleticism. The phrase “elite athleticism” is often overused, but not here with the 6’2, 230 pound backer’ who routinely returned kicks in high school. His sideline to sideline speed is the kind Pruitt had the luxury of seeing up close and personal with various Bama linebackers over the years. Barring an unexpected flip at the midnight hour, Peterson appears primed to serve as Pruitt’s biggest get to date.
Quay Walker – Outside Linebacker from Cordele, GA
Quay Walker isn’t just the 31st best player nationally, but also good buddies with JJ Peterson. Should the Vols parlay that friendship into a signed national letter of intent, Tennessee will have signed two out of the top three outside linebackers in the country.
The long-time Alabama commit is thought to be a toss-up between Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia. Standing at 6’4, 236, Walker has a near college-ready frame. His size and athleticism gives a team the added luxury of having him put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer or flash his cover skills on seam routes. Of all the possible signing day surprises, there’s likely none with as much excitement for Vols fans than the prospect of Walker to Tennessee.
The Cali’ Corners
Olaijah Griffin – Cornerback out of Mission Viejo, CA
Swag, check. Ball-hawk, check. Famous rapper of a dad, check. No, I’m not talking about Snoop Dog’s football turned model son, Cordell Broadus, but rather the son of another 213 member, Warren G. After he backed off a pledge to UCLA, Olaijah Griffin remains the top uncommitted prospect in Cali. The West Coast baller appears to be down to hometown favorite USC and the Vols, at one time even admitting Tennessee held “a big lead.”
Griffin excelled in practices at the Under Armor All American game, flashing shutdown ability at corner against some of the nation’s best. Patterning his game after former USC star and current Tennessee Titan Adoree Jackson, Griffin showcased his athletic ability on the gridiron returning kicks and flashed his speed off it running track. With family nearby and USC’s pitch to be the next Adoree, OG seems like a tough and unlikely pull for the Vols.
Isaac Taylor-Stuart – Cornerback out of San Diego, CA
Often referred to as simply by his initials, “ITS” is a rangy corner who surprised everyone with a last minute visit to Tennessee the weekend before Signing Day. Set to decide between USC, Alabama, Tennessee and Texas A&M, SI decided to devote an entire wasted space of journalism towards whether he would base his decision off his love for Whataburger over In-N-Out Burger.
With a purported 51 offers to his name, ITS would give Pruitt a player at a position of real need. Like Griffin, the versatile athlete returned kicks and ran track in high school. From different recruitniks’ opinions, USC or Bama appear to be the likely choice. With both schools having demonstrated a proven track-record of putting DBs in the league the last few years, UT seems on the outside looking in. However, his reply to a Vol tweet this past week in which he claimed his dad dropped 3 grand on UT gear while on his official visit certainly did nothing to quell Vol fans’ dreams.
— Rocky Top (@865RockyTop) February 3, 2018
The Gamebreaker at Wideout
Jacob Copeland – Wide Receiver from Pensacola, FL
Shortly after Pruitt got the job, elite wideout Jacob Copeland voiced his approval of the hire on Twitter.
Coach Pruitt is one of the realist coaches I have met throughout the process honestly. 🤷🏾♂️💯
— Jacob Copeland 🇭🇹 (@JCope1era) December 7, 2017
Rated as 247’s sixty-ninth best player in the country, Copeland turned heads at the Under Armor All American practices. The soft-spoken, no nonsense kid has remained relatively quiet throughout the whole recruiting process, even as the entire SEC competes for his pass-catching ability. With his final official visit to Florida this past weekend, most believe Copeland stays home to play for the Gators.
On the one day of the year when grown men all over the country pine over the decision of high schoolers, National Signing Day almost always proves to be a dramatic and fun-filled affair. For Tennessee fans, an assortment of undecided targets warrants close attention. Although unlikely to hit on all of its targets, a Volunteer surprise or two is not out of the question.
[Banner attribution to Sports Illustrated]