Things are starting to heat up on the recruiting front as rising junior and senior players make a name for themselves and begin to see their offer sheets grow exponentially, as elite summer camps have begun to take place across the nation.
The latest in these summer camps is the Rivals Camp Series: Atlanta, which features nearly every top player in Atlanta and the surrounding areas. The highlight of the weekend was the competition featuring two quarterbacks the Volunteers know intimately, former commit Austin Kendall and Tennessee's current top target Jarrett Guarantano.
Former #Vols commit Austin Kendall & future (?) #Vols commit Jarrett Guarantano #RivalsChallenge pic.twitter.com/t8XsB0vKmK— Adam Friedman (@RivalsFriedman) March 22, 2015
Kendall has yet to officially eliminate Tennessee from consideration, but the Vols have made no secret of their desire to land Guarantano and will be hosting him this weekend as soon as he wraps up camp in Atlanta. If Guarantano eliminates Tennessee, the Vols could attempt to recommit Kendall, however that bridge has most likely been burned to the ground. It may be all or nothing for the Vols and Guarantano.
So, how did Guarantano compete against the best the South has to offer? Not bad at all. Guarantano took home the Rivals Challenge award for "Rocket Arm":
Congrats to Atlanta QB #RivalsChallenge "Rocket Arm" Jarrett Guarantano! pic.twitter.com/gcNxtCGKqe— Rivals Camp Series (@RivalsCamp) March 22, 2015
Guarantano gave an update on his recruitment while in Atlanta. Here's what he had to say in a video interview with Rivals:
How's the experience recruiting been for you? JG: "It's been a long road honestly, starting off I thought it was the greatest thing. Getting letters and all that stuff and it kinda got more stressful more towards now. I mean it's fun, it's enjoyable, but it's also stressful."
Who are the three schools you are focusing on? JG: "Ohio State, Tennessee and Rutgers."
Do you feel pressure to stay home (and go to Rutgers)?: JG: "I feel a little bit of pressure coming from the fans and the alumni and that sort just because my dad. But not from the guys (fellow New Jersey prospects). They are always telling me to make the best decision for myself and I believe they have the best interest in me. So if I want to go elsewhere, they are still going to be my friends and still going to be around for me. So it doesn't get any pressure from them."
Where does Tennessee stand? JG: "I think Tennessee is a great place for me and just when I think about it for recruiting, I mean depth chart wise, where the location is with a lot of family down south. So I mean, I can't wait to go visit after this, I'm going right there, to Knoxville after this and we'll see how that goes. We're going to sit down with their new quarterback coach/offensive coordinator, see how their offense is going to fit me. I think it fits me pretty well just the way they've been running it, but we'll see how the different changes might suit me."
What factors are you really looking for in a school? JG: "I'm looking for type of offense, an offense that can help me hopefully get me to the next level (NFL), I'm praying hopefully to get to the next level like I said. Academics is also important. I want something after football I want to study in occupational therapy. So just in that sense I want to be able to have a great education in that, a great major. Where the location is, location is very important. Just to know where I have family at, where I don't. And really, I want to be able to win in college football. That's the greatest feeling in the world they say, so winning in college football is very important and where ever I decide to go I want to hopefully be able to compete for a conference championship, national championship."
Timeframe for your decision? JG: "Probably three to four weeks."
Who is your top three, in order? JG: "If I had to pick today... Rutgers, Tennessee, Ohio State."
If Butch Jones and company can show Guarantano what he wants, and more importantly, what he needs to see, expect the Vols to be in the mix for his services.
Guarantano arrived on campus as planned Sunday and tweeted out to #VolNation almost immediately:
#VolNation pic.twitter.com/8ouUZeHXVx— Jarrett Guarantano (@Guarantano18) March 22, 2015
Another participant at the Atlanta camp was the state's top prospect Joejuan Williams. Williams has offers from nearly every top program in the country, including Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and every SEC team.
The Vols cannot afford to let him get out of the state, as Williams is an ideal candidate to replace Cam Sutton in 2016, if he goes pro early, or in 2017 after he graduates. Williams is a huge prospect for a corner, coming in at 6'3" 195 lbs, which has lead some programs to question whether he can play at corner or not. Tennessee coaches have not done this and have promised Williams a shot to play cornerback, which appears to be working in the Vols favor. Williams was another prospect that gave a lengthy interview this weekend with VolQuest ($).
The son of Tennessee legend Dale Carter, Warrior is Tennessee's top safety prospect for 2016. Warrior is another player who is being recruited by every program around the country and he has already visited Alabama and Auburn, with plans to see Ohio State, Michigan, and the big three in Florida. When asked who is recruiting him the hardest, Warrior claiming Tennessee was the school at the top of that list.
One thing of note here, Warrior showed up in Alabama gloves to the camp. Just some swag he received from his recent trip, or a sign of things to come?
The five-star defensive tackle out of Georgia is considered a UGA lean, however there's still a long way to go in his recruitment.
The five-star defensive end Davidson could very well end up ranked as the #1 overall player when it's all said and done, as he's currently listed as Rivals #2 overall prospect. His highlight tape reminds me of Jadeveon Clowney, although he doesn't yet possess Clowney's freak speed for a player of that size. If the Vols get this guy, SEC offensive lines may just give up. Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Tennessee are said to be his current favorites. Davidson is planning on taking a visit to Knoxville this summer. Davidson has been in contact with the Vols coaching staff for sometime and says he's interested in getting to know the coaches in Knoxville better as people, not just as coaches.
Wilson is a highly coveted four-star outside linebacker from Alabama. Alabama and Auburn are the obvious favorites to land his services but he's said to be open to Tennessee, as the Vols have been recruiting him especially hard. When asked which out of state team has the best chance to land him, Wilson said Tennessee would be that team. "I visited Tennessee last summer, had a chance to sit down with coach Thig and just went over a lot of stuff, but that's about the only other school I've visited other than Auburn and Alabama." When asked what he liked about Tennessee, "It was great. They have great facilities, great coaches and great players. I went over the defense with the coaches and I think I can go in and play as a freshman at Tennessee, with all the guys that's graduating and leaving this year."
Ladler is four-star corner out of Florida, currently ranked inside the top 100 prospects in the nation. He has yet to begin to officially narrow down his list of schools, but has a shared relationship through defensive back coach Willie Martinez. That relationship has brought Ladler into the picture for Tennessee. Ladler is expected to commit this summer.
The Volunteers don't have as much room to take players in this year's recruiting cycle as they've had in the past two classes, so they are obviously being much more selective this time around. It's a great sign that so many of the nation's elite are considering the Vols in their final options. Gaining a couple of these players could potentially push Tennessee towards another top nationally ranked class. Expect Guarantano's decision to come first, followed by the others down the road.
It's worth noting that the prospects Tennessee are currently recruiting make note to mention their desire to compete for national championships at the next level. While every team these prospects are considering have been in contention for titles in the recent era, Tennessee has not. It seems that Butch's program has developed so much hype and swag that the recruits completely buy-in with the Butch and the Tennessee program and the bright future that lies ahead.
Tennessee could quickly potentially lose some momentum in the recruiting world if they start slow this season and lose a couple swing games. However, if they were to beat Oklahoma and possibly Florida (I'll never pick them to do so until they actually do it), their brand would never be hotter and another top class could be in the cards. With another top class, the Vols will have the talent on paper to seriously entertain SEC championship expectations starting in 2016.
I said it's great to be a Tennessee Vol!!! #BrickByBrick