Two Highly-Rated Prospects are High on the Vols

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    (Photo via @44crzy on Twitter)

    Two top-end recruits in the 2021 recruiting cycle have the Vols among their top teams moving forward.

    Wide receiver Dont’e Thornton and outside linebacker Aaron Willis — who both play in Baltimore, Maryland — released their trimmed-down list of top schools on Saturday, and Tennessee made the cut for both elite prospects.

    Thornton, who plays for Mount Saint Joseph, cut down his list of 27 offers to a top 12, including Tennessee, LSU, USC, Oregon, Michigan, Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida State, South Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, and Arizona State. Willis — who plays for St. Frances Academy — revealed his top seven schools, with the Vols joined by LSU, Alabama, Michigan, Texas, Maryland, and Arizona State.

    According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Thornton is the No. 47 overall prospect and No. 6 wide receiver in the 2021 cycle. The 6-foot-5, 195-pound wideout committed to Penn State back on February 2, 2019 while on campus for a Junior Day event, but he decommitted from the Nittany Lions on August 1st of that same year.

    The Vols first offered Thornton on April 25, 2019, and he then attended UT’s campus on June 21st for the “Rocky Top Cookout.”

    In an interview with Tom Loy of 247Sports, Thornton broke down his 12 top teams, and he sees a path to early playing time at Tennessee.

    “They are definitely going to throw the ball,” Thornton said of the Vols. “They lose some receivers. If I go there and work hard, I may be able to start early.”

    A year ago, Thornton was timed running a 4.63-second 40-yard dash and a 4.50-second shuttle at a regional camp for Nike’s The Opening. He also showed off a 33-inch vertical at the camp.

    Thornton put up some eye-popping numbers in his junior season at Mount St. Joseph, totaling 1,021 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns on just 38 receptions, averaging 26.9 yards a catch per MaxPreps. Thornton has 1,881 career receiving yards and 26 scores in two seasons at Mount St. Joseph, averaging 24.1 yards a reception.

    As for Willis, he’s one of the top outside linebackers in the 2021 class.

    The 6-foot, 200-pound defender, who plays for St. Frances Academy, is the No. 110 overall prospect and No. 9 outside linebacker in the 2021 cycle per the 247Sports Composite rankings. Willis plays for the same high school as Tennessee 2020 signee and current early enrollee defensive lineman Dominic Bailey.

    Tennessee offered Willis back on January 24, 2019 while he was still committed to Virginia Tech. Willis committed to the Hokies on September 21, 2018, but he reopened his recruitment on April 29, 2019.

    Though he’s listed as an outside linebacker on recruiting services, Willis is viewed as a likely inside linebacker or strong safety in college.

    The Vols currently have nine prospects committed to them in their 2021 class. Two of those recruits are wide receivers (Jordan Mosley and Walker Merrill), and one projects as a potential safety (Edwin White).

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.