The expectations are changing at the University of Tennessee – particularly for an incoming freshman defensive line class that many are labeling as one of the best in the nation, if not among the best recruiting hauls at one position ever.
Being competitive, getting to a bowl game and having a winning record are all still part of the equation, but there’s a sense that the incoming freshman enrollees saw what the 2014 team did down the stretch, knows how highly-ranked ranked this class is and sees the potential of what could be.
“It’s a lot of excitement,” said freshman defensive end Kyle Phillips, who is rated as high as a five-star recruit by some services. “We just feel that we have great expectations next year. We feel like we can go far next year and maybe have a run at the playoffs, but we’ll just see how it goes from there.”
But while the standards appear to be rising, there’s also no sense of entitlement coming to Knoxville, even for a group that’s so highly regarded in recruiting circles.
“We all know we have to work hard,” Phillips added. “We all know we have a lot of work to do to get to that point. The team that’s been at the high level, they’ve worked hard, so we have to work even harder than them to be there. We have great expectations for next year though.”
Defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, another highly-ranked recruit, understands the expectations are rising and the pressure that will be on him and his classmates going forward.
Tuttle, a 6-foot-3, 315-pound defensive tackle from Midway, N.C., is already being asked if he can team with some of the other incoming defensive linemen, such as Phillips, to form one of the best young duos in the country.
“Yeah, of course, as long as we work hard and do our job,” he responded.
Phillips is aware of the expectations as well. Five-star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie is committed to join the group in the summer. Defensive end Andrew Butcher has also enrolled and defensive linemen Darrell Taylor, Quay Picou and Marques Ford are also committed to the 2015 class.
“I think this group can do really well,” Phillips said. “We still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of high expectations for our freshman class, but we have to put in work in the classroom and on the field just to show you guys how good we can be. As the season progresses, we’ll see how it goes. We have, definitely, enough talent to be as good as people say, but we still have to work hard to get to that point.”
Butcher says he’s aware of what is being said about this group of defensive linemen, and that it’s something they are embracing. He also knows that a bunch of high rankings and stars from the recruiting process will mean very little for this group without putting the work in to maximize that talent.
“We talk all the time about working together and how special it’s going to be,” said Butcher. “And we’re really looking forward to it…I think our work ethic is one of the major plus sides for us. If we just keep on working, we can be very special.”