Jeremy Pruitt’s first recruiting class at Tennessee finished as a top 20 overall class in the country by most recruiting services. Pruitt and his staff pulled together a solid early signing period class, and they were able to add some more players on National Signing Day.
But Pruitt isn’t satisfied with top-20 finishes in recruiting. He comes from schools like Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State, and those schools routinely finish inside the top 5 in recruiting. According to 247Sports, the Vols’ last four recruiting classes (2015-18) have averaged just over a 13th place finish nationally. But Alabama has had the No. 1 recruiting class three of the last four years, Georgia finished first in the 2018 cycle and has averaged a fourth place finish the last four years, and Florida State has averaged just under a sixth place finish the last four cycles.
Pruitt isn’t used to finishing outside the top 10 in recruiting. And he certainly isn’t used to missing out on players like the Vols did on National Signing Day this year.
Tennessee was in on several highly-rated players heading into the final day of the 2018 recruiting cycle. Five-stars Quay Walker, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, and Olaijah Griffin all had the Vols in their final teams on signing day. So did four-stars Jacob Copeland, Taiyon Palmer, and Jashaun Corbin. The Vols had commitments from two four-stars in Anthony Grant and Jordan Young heading into that day as well.
But Tennessee missed on every single one of those players. And players like Walker, Copeland, and Corbin chose other SEC schools over the Vols.
Pruitt isn’t used to missing on players like that. And he’s taken it to heart.
In an interview with Chris Low of ESPN, Pruitt spoke candidly about recruiting at Tennessee and his philosophy moving forward. And while he’s happy with the players he and his staff got, he has said before that he plans to have the Vols near the top in recruiting in the future.
“If we’re not recruiting those players and getting those kinds of players, then we’re not doing our job,” Pruitt told Low.
There is value in finding diamonds in the rough and adding three-star prospects with chips on their shoulders. But teams who compete at the highest level and make it to the playoffs are there often because of the talent on their roster. No team will ever be fully comprised of four and five-star players. You need three-stars and lower to play pivotal roles.
But teams like Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Oregon, Ohio State, and others who have made the playoffs and won titles over the years have all recruited at consistently high levels.
“You win with players, and it’s not always the players ranked the highest,” Pruitt stated. “We’re going to trust our evaluations and trust the connections and relationships we’ve cultivated over time as a staff. There are players out there. You gotta go find them. Sometimes they’re the so-called tier-two players.
“But most of the time, they’re the players Alabama is getting, the players Georgia is getting, and that’s who we need to be battling against and winning our share of battles against if we’re going to get this program where we all want it to be.”
Tennessee did win a few battles against teams like Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Clemson. The Vols beat out the Tide for four-star JUCO tight end Dominick Wood-Anderson and were able to land a commitment from four-star linebacker J.J. Peterson over Alabama as well. Florida and Mississippi State made a push for four-star offensive lineman Jerome Carvin, but the Vols signed him. Defensive back Trevon Flowers chose the Vols despite a full court press from Clemson in the final weeks of the 2018 cycle, and Georgia tried to steal away Alontae Taylor before the early signing period.
While the Vols beat out those teams for those players, they lost more recruiting battles than they won. And Pruitt wants to see that change.
“What you need is that you need 15 guys that you beat Alabama and Georgia on instead of three or four,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt was able to pull together a top 20 class for the Vols despite being named head coach with just two weeks till the early signing period and electing to stay on as Alabama’s defensive coordinator during the playoffs afterwards while also juggling head coaching duties with Tennessee. And he says the Vols will get the same determination and effort that Alabama got from him.
“Just as I will do here, I was going to finish what I started,” Pruitt said of staying on as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. “Tennessee will get that same dedication. It’s the way I believe in doing things.”
The Vols have two commitments from four-star players in their 2019 class right now in offensive lineman Jackson Lampley and athlete Te’Cory Couch. But there’s still much work to be done in this class, and Pruitt has made it very clear he intends for the Vols’ 2019 class to have many more stars than his first class at Tennessee.