After the coaching change and the 3-7 season in 2020, the thought of Tennessee landing five-star in-state defensive tackle Walter Nolen was somewhat laughable. Josh Heupel and his staff had a lot of work to do and big impressions to make rather quickly.
On the Nolen front, it seems like they’ve done that. The narrative here has gone from Tennessee hanging around, to perhaps Tennessee being the perceived leader. The last thought was confirmed this weekend when news broke that Nolen was moving to Knoxville for his senior season of high school football.
The nations #1 recruit, according to many recruiting services, @WalterNolen4 has enrolled at Powell High School. When he hits the practice field? We don’t know, but he is officially a Powell Panther. @AustinPriceless @Kreager @Volquest_Rivals @prepxtra @CoachTcom @_Cainer pic.twitter.com/UT6ZuzlZ0o— MARK PACKER (@wvltpacker) July 25, 2021
Nolen will move from the Memphis area to enroll at Powell, which is located just outside of Knoxville. Marlon Walls, a former Tennessee player, recently resigned at St. Benedict at Auburndale High School in Cordova, perhaps helping to spur the move for Nolen.
Tennessee has since received a few futurecasts to land Nolen over at Rivals.
The 6-5, 300 pound defensive tackle is not only the top player in the state of Tennessee, but he’s listed as the top player in the country by ESPN. 247Sports has Nolen listed as the No. 3 player in the 2022 class.
Tennessee did not appear in Nolen’s top eight back in April, but stormed back into his top five, which was updated this summer. The Volunteers hosted Nolen on two unofficial visits in June, right after in-person recruiting was reopened by the NCAA. Those visits have clearly put the Vols directly in the mix, as Nolen develops a relationship with veteran defensive line coach Rodney Garner.
Nolen has only taken two official visits to this point, seeing both Florida and Michigan. It’s unclear if he will take more official visits before his commitment, which he has said could happen as soon as August.
Tennessee has gotten off to an understandably slow start on the recruiting trial since Josh Heupel arrived, but this situation is exactly why you go hire Rodney Garner. Existing recruiting relationships and reputations matter, and his track record as Auburn speaks for itself.
Very suddenly, this has become the recruiting story to watch over the next few weeks. The Volunteers could very well land Nolen here, giving this class a much needed shot in the arm at a position of need.