Just a few months ago, Tennessee wasn’t even on Sav’ell Small’s radar. Now, they’re one of the top teams vying for his commitment.
The nation’s No. 1 outside linebacker in the 2020 recruiting class tweeted out a graphic showing off the top six teams in his recruitment moving forward, and the Vols made the cut. Alabama, Washington, Oregon, Florida State, and Washington State also made his list.
— Juize 🥤 (@SavvySmalls_9) August 18, 2019
According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Smalls is the No. 9 overall prospect, No. 1 outside linebacker, and No. 1 player in the state of Washington. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker from Burlen, Washington holds offers from over two dozen programs, but he’s ready to focus on just a handful of schools.
Smalls released a top 12 back in February that didn’t include the Vols, but UT has made significant progress since then. His original top 12 was comprised of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Washington, Texas A&M, Florida, Miami, Oregon, Texas, Florida State, and Washington State.
Tennessee tight ends coach and reigning National Recruiter of the Year Brian Niedermeyer is Smalls’ main recruiter with the Vols, and he traveled to Parkland, Washington back in mid-June for the Pacific Lutheran University 11-on-11 high school football tournament and worked with Smalls there.
— Brandon Huffman (@BrandonHuffman) June 15, 2019
Niedermeyer isn’t the only UT coach Smalls is a fan of, though.
Smalls spoke with Sports Stars of Tomorrow earlier this summer, and in that interview he stated that that he’s a big believer in Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt because of his ability to develop outside linebackers.
“Coach Pruitt’s there, he’s the head coach, and he’s like an outside linebacker master,” Smalls said. “He knows everything about defense. He’s a defensive guru. He really develops pass rushers like no other, and that’s a big plus being the head coach.
“And Tennessee’s up and coming.”
Tennessee’s relationships with Smalls are a big reason why the Vols became a contender for him, as was his recent visit to Knoxville. Smalls made an unofficial visit to UT’s campus back on July 29th, visiting the Vols on the final weekend before the dead period began heading into August. That trip followed up an unofficial visit to Florida State on July 25th. It also marked the first time he had been to Knoxville.
Smalls has been invited to participate in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame World Bowl and the Polynesian Bowl in the 2020 cycle.
As a high school player, Smalls does a little bit of everything. Not only is he a phenomenal defender, but he plays wide receiver, too. Smalls has exceptional awareness and physicality, and he has good speed, especially for his size. He plays both as an edge rusher with his hand in the dirt and as a stand-up linebacker. Smalls has great burst off the line and has superb instincts as a defensive player. He’s not bad in pass coverage, either. He will play either as a stand-up outside linebacker or as a down lineman in college, or maybe a combo of both.
In his junior season, Smalls had 21 tackles for loss and seven sacks on defense and totaled 33 receptions for 673 yards and seven touchdowns on offense.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt has clearly impressed Smalls with his defensive prowess, and Pruitt has had that effect on other outside linebackers since coming to Tennessee as well. In the 2018 class, the Vols signed J.J. Peterson, the No. 3 outside linebacker in the 2018 cycle. The next recruiting cycle, Tennessee again signed the No. 3 OLB in the class when Henry To’oto’o signed with the Vols in the 2019 class. Tennessee also picked up a commitment from four-star outside linebacker BJ Ojulari in the 2020 class on Friday of this past week.
Though both Peterson and To’oto’o are now slated to play at inside linebacker for the Vols this upcoming season, it’s clear that Pruitt and his staff appeal to linebackers. Smalls is no different.
Smalls didn’t just include Tennessee for fun; the Vols are legitimate players for the top outside linebacker in the 2020 cycle. But in order to continue to be a major factor in his recruitment, the Vols must show significant improvement in the 2019 season. Going 7-5 in the regular season should be enough as long as the Vols are competitive in their losses, but anything better would really help their cause.
As it stands right now, Smalls’ recruitment is fairly wide open with his top teams. The west coast seems to have a slight edge, but Smalls likes both Tennessee and Florida State, and Alabama can never be discounted. But the Vols have done all they can with him up to this point. Now, they just have to go win games and show improvement.