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Jeremy Pruitt: The Closer

An interesting trend we noticed in Tennessee’s recruiting.

Vanderbilt v Tennessee Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images

Jeremy Pruitt has had three signing classes to show what he can do for Tennessee football recruiting. One of those was the transition class in the 2018 cycle, and the other two (2019 and 2020) have been full classes. Respectively, they have ranked 21st, 13th, and 10th in the nation according to 247Sports.

The classes in their entirety are the most important, of course. There’s no extra credit for signing someone in the February signing period versus the December signing period. However, the later signing period can indicate a particular skill that’s highly valued among college coaches—closing.

That’s right. The ability to close in college football recruiting is much like the ability to close when wearing three piece suits and discussing company mergers. Your opportunity to make your final pitch and leave no doubt remaining is almost as important as everything before it.

That closing ability is becoming more and more vital in college football recruiting. The addition of the December signing day has thrown a wrench into the traditional recruiting calendar. Most recruits are electing to sign on the earlier date, whether to guarantee their spot or to get the process over with.

With the February signing day, the recruits you’re going after will typically have a lot of big schools after them. That might not be true for grades risks, but it is true for recruits who elected to wait out the process. Since around 70% of prospects signed in December, it means the competition in February enters a bottleneck. You have to be an excellent closer to finish out a class with a single month of recruiting.

We’re still early (heh) in the Early Signing Day Era of course, so things might change down the road as rules are tweaked and as the landscape changes. Yet the early returns seem to indicate that certain coaches are better than others when it comes to landing those high profile recruits in the February signing day. Jeremy Pruitt among them.

Let’s look at every prospect he’s signed from 2018 onwards, who elected to sign in February. List is in descending order by recruiting ranking.

5-star OT Darnell Wright (#10 overall)
4-star LB Henry To’oto’o (#44 overall)
4-star LB J.J. Peterson (#48 overall)
4-star WR Malachi Wideman (#116 overall)
3-star ATH Damarcus Beckwith (#392 overall)
3-star DE John Mincey (#795 overall)
3-star S Trevon Flowers (#930 overall)
3-star DE Kurott Garland (#1166 overall)
3-star CB Kenney Solomon (#1400 overall)

What’s so impressive about this list?

The top four names are all top-150 players, with three being in the top-50. As we get further into the early signing period era, there are less and less players in those categories available to sign. The number from the 2020 cycle illustrates the point well: By my count, there were just six top-150 prospects left unsigned after the December signing period. That’s it.

Being able to sign one of those guys in every single class means Pruitt has a pretty rare ability. There are more successful schools who have signed elite prospects in February (probably more than Tennessee has signed even) but what school with Tennessee’s past two years has been able to reel off the recruiting success they have? This season was regarded as a step forward yet it was still an 8-5 overall record. Which directly succeeded a 5-7 season. Grabbing 5-stars and elite prospects under those circumstances is extremely rare.

Even better is the preliminary results from the whole list of signed players. Wright and To’oto’o are projected starters for 2020 who had impressive freshman campaigns. Flowers and Garland both made starts in 2019 and looked promising (Flowers already secured a starting spot in 2018 before injury). Peterson, Mincey, and Solomon all made appearances in 2019 and recorded a statistic.

The only “disappointment” is Peterson, but he still has three years of eligibility left to live up to his ranking. Out of the seven players from the 2018 and 2019 classes, Tennessee has gained two high level starters, two promising starters, and three rotational players. That’s not just good recruiting—that’s good evaluations.

So if you’re thinking that Tennessee’s recruiting classes are done by December...hold your horses. Because Jeremy Pruitt has shown he keeps aces up his sleeve.