This article is part one of a series of articles from an interview with Vol commit Elijah Howard
Elijah Howard has been committed to Tennessee for almost exactly a year at this point. The talented athlete, who now plays for Baylor High School in Chattanooga, announced his commitment to the Vols on June 25th of last year, and he’s been committed to UT the second-longest of any recruit currently in the Vols’ 2021 class. Only four-star wide receiver Jordan Mosley has Howard beat, and it’s only by a few days.
When Howard first pledged himself to the Vols, Tennessee was still a few months away from starting the 2019 season, and UT was coming off back-to-back losing seasons. At that point in time, it seemed unlikely that the Vols would be able to pull in one of the top classes in the country in the 2020 class, let alone in the 2021 cycle.
But that’s just what they did last class and look poised to do this cycle, too.
Tennessee’s group of signees in the 2020 class finished in the top 10 across the board, and right now the Vols’ 2021 class is tops in the SEC and No. 3 in the nation on 247Sports. All of this despite the Vols beginning the 2019 season with a 1-4 record and last year’s 8-5 mark being the program’s first winning season since 2016.
Still, Howard says he’s not at all surprised at Tennessee’s success on the recruiting trail right now.
The in-state running back recently spoke with me about his recruitment, why he originally chose the Vols, and Tennessee’s current recruiting success. He said that he knew this type of explosion on the recruiting trail was bound to happen, it was just a matter of time.
“They got the right guys in,” Howard said. “Tennessee is a place that used to be feared. The fans there are great, and getting to play in front of all of them would be a dream come true as a hometown kid growing up here.
“Coach Pruitt, people trust him. They like the direction that he’s got the program going. So I knew it was just a matter of time before everybody started to see that and started to join.”
It took a little bit for Tennessee’s 2021 class to really take off, but once the momentum picked up, things really got rolling for the Vols.
Howard, Mosley, and cornerback Jay Jones were three of the first recruits to jump in the boat for Tennessee’s 2021 class, but that ship suddenly got a lot more crowded a few months ago. In about a span of a month from April 26th through May 22nd, the Vols picked up commitments from 16 different prospects, many of which were rated as four-or-five-stars.
And Tennessee still isn’t done.
The Vols have a number of highly-rated recruits still on their board, and Howard is doing his part to try and get some of those prospects to join him in UT’s 2021 class. Much like fellow Vol commit Kamar Wilcoxson, who says he is working on bringing in an “epic” class for Tennessee, Howard wants to help bring UT back to the top of college football.
Howard says he’s been talking to a lot of offensive linemen to come in and “help me out” on offense, and his pitch is a pretty simple one.
“It doesn’t get any better than UT,” Howard explained. “Academic-wise, it’s a good school. It’s a great football town. You have two gurus in Coach Pruitt and Coach Ansley, too.
“I’m trying to help boost our recruiting so we can be back at the top of the SEC again.”
Tennessee’s surge in recruiting caught the attention of college football powers across the country, too. Teams like Florida, Georgia, and Oklahoma all took veiled (or not so veiled) shots at Tennessee on Twitter in the midst of the Vols’ run last month. While Wilcoxson had some pretty strong takes on the teams throwing shade at Tennessee, Howard took a little different route, saying those teams are taking shots out of fear of what is building in Knoxville.
“It seems like they’re kinda afraid of what’s about to happen,” Howard said. “They see all the talent, and there’s a possibility of Tennessee being back on top. So they start saying a lot of things out of fear.”
Whatever the reason, Tennessee’s 2021 class has started out strong, and there’s a possibility of it only getting better before the early signing period in December and National Signing Day in February. And Howard isn’t surprised at all that Tennessee is in this spot heading into Jeremy Pruitt’s third season as the Vols’ head coach.