Tennessee has been trying to add an elite tight end to their 2020 class for a while, and one of their top targets is teammates with the Vols’ lone quarterback commit in the 2020 class. But Tennessee may actually be looking at him at a different position other than tight end.
Arik Gilbert is rated as the No. 1 tight end in the country and a five-star prospect. The 6-foot-5, 253-pound athlete plays for Marietta High School, the same school four-star quarterback and Vol commit Harrison Bailey plays for.
Tennessee’s coaches have been pursuing Gilbert for quite some time, and he’s visited UTs campus multiple times throughout his recruitment. But the Vols have been using a unique sales pitch to the five-star that no other school has been implementing to this point.
In an interview with Matthew Ray of Vol Recruiting Reports, Gilbert stated that Tennessee has actually been recruiting Gilbert more as a wide receiver lately. That’s something no other school has been doing.
“They are starting to recruit me as a receiver now,” Gilbert told Ray after Marietta’s first practice on Thursday. “That has been the big message from them. They are just telling me that they have something to offer that no one else does.”
Teams like Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia have been the primary teams recruiting Gilbert. He’s gotten interest from every major program across college football, but Tennessee is so far the only school looking at him as something other than a pure tight end.
According to Gilbert, that unique message has put the Vols ahead of other schools in his recruitment.
“For sure there is some appeal,” Gilbert explained. “It is just like they said, they are the only ones offering me to play receiver right now. So that alone gives them a boost in front of the other schools.”
Tennessee loses four senior wide receivers after the 2019 season, giving them a major need to add some wideouts in their 2020 class. Right now, the Vols don’t have any commitments from any true wide receivers in the 2020 cycle, though it’s believed three-star Jimmy Calloway will start out at wide receiver, and in-state athlete Darion Williamson could play there as well.
According to Ray, Gilbert lined up at “every offensive skill position except quarterback” during Marietta’s practice on Thursday.
Gilbert’s most recent visit to Knoxville was on May 18th. He took an unofficial trip to Tennessee and participated in the big paintball match that UT’s coaches held with various recruits. Gilbert was there with some other high priority Tennessee targets, such as four-star in-state center Cooper Mays.
Before his trip to UT, Gilbert had stopped at Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M from January 26th through April 3rd. Gilbert also took a visit to Knoxville for a Junior Day event on January 19th, and he visited campus in March of 2018 as well.
Right now, Gilbert is planning on visiting Clemson this weekend. He also took a trip to Alabama back in mid-June.
On offense, Gilbert is a dynamic athlete who uses his speed and power to get open and make huge plays. He was timed running a 4.73-second 40-yard dash at Nike’s The Opening Finals, but he looks even quicker than that on his film. Gilbert can run good routes, and he’s shifty. He looks more like a big wide receiver rather than a tight end, which makes him a match-up nightmare for defenses. With a 35-inch vertical and a solid build, he already looks college ready. He lines up at tight end and out wide for Marietta, showing off his versatility.
As a junior last season, Gilbert caught 88 passes for 1,210 yards and 14 touchdowns according to MaxPreps. On defense, he totaled 64 tackles, six tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, and two passes defended.
Gilbert has already made several trips to Knoxville during his recruitment, and he’ll likely be back again this fall. He told Ray of Vol Recruiting Reports that Tennessee will “most likely” be getting an official visit from him in the future.
The Vols are in a good spot with him thanks to having Harrison Bailey committed and being in a good spot with another one of his teammates, four-star outside linebacker BJ Ojulari. But Georgia, Alabama, and Clemson aren’t going to be easy to fend off for his commitment.
You can read Gilbert’s full interview with Vol Recruiting Reports here.