If you’re a Tennessee fan, you don’t have a lot to complain about in regards to recruiting at the moment. Jeremy Pruitt finished nearly as strongly as he could have with the 2019 class, adding five-star tackle Darnell Wright and four-star linebacker Henry To’oto’o on signing day last week.
The class finished 12th overall, according the 247 Sports composite rankings. Pruitt’s staff crushed the state of Georgia, adding nine players from the Peach State which made up the bulk of the class. It’s odd to compare that number to the state of Tennessee, which the Vols pulled just four commitments out of. Tennessee added RB Eric Gray, OL Melvin McBride, OL Jackson Lampley and DL Elijah Simmons from their own state in 2019.
Over the past five years, Tennessee hasn’t exactly locked up the state borders. Tee Higgins, Amari Rodgers, Cade Mays and Master Teague are some of the in-state names that have gotten away from the Tennessee program. The national championship was a painful reminder of some of those recruiting misses.
Looking at this year alone, just two of the top 15 players to come out of the state of Tennessee committed to the state school. Some didn’t fit the mold of what this staff wants, but the Vols never really gained traction with other top in-state guys like Zion Logue, Maurice Hampton, Kane Patterson, Lance Wilhoite and Bill Norton.
Part of that is simply where Tennessee has fallen as a program. Another factor likely is a lack of established relationships with this staff inside the borders of Tennessee.
Pruitt had some instant success back in the 2018 class, pulling Jeremy Banks and Jerome Carvin out of the Memphis area. He was able to convince Alontae Taylor to stick around after Taylor decommitted during the coaching change. But he’s been playing catch-up ever since, trying to change a losing culture and shake off the lasting stink of Butch Jones.
Now in his third recruiting cycle, Tennessee finally has established some momentum on the recruiting trail. There’s a buzz about this program, despite the on-field product in 2018. That momentum should carry over throughout the spring and summer months, which have taken on new importance since the debut of the early signing period in December.
The state of Tennessee isn’t short on 2020 talent, either. Nine players from the Volunteer state are currently ranked inside the top 200 by 247 Sports. Athlete Reggie Grimes checks in as the state’s only five-star prospect, but four-star talents like (OL) Bryn Tucker, (DB) Keshawn Lawrence, (OL) Omari Thomas, (OL) Marcus Henderson, and (WR) Darin Turner have been on the national recruiting scene for some time. Pruitt and company have a great opportunity to continue their offensive line rebuild without even leaving the state in the 2020 cycle.
There’s no doubting that Tennessee got better during the 2019 recruiting cycle, but the program still needs to start taking its borders back. Tennessee is producing more talent than it ever has — and the Vols have yet to really take advantage. It’s time to change that.