Over the last few weeks, Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt and several of his assistant coaches have made it clear that they’re listening to their players. And that’s standing out to recruits.
Pruitt attended a Black Lives Matter protest with several of his players — such as Trey Smith and K’Rojhn Calbert — in downtown Knoxville and spoke to the crowd in attendance along with Smith and Calbert earlier this month. Last week, Pruitt revealed to the media via a virtual press conference that he and his players have discussed wearing black uniforms against Kentucky in November and auctioning off those jerseys to donate to the Black Lives Matter cause (wide receivers coach Tee Martin later explained that the donated money would stay in East Tennessee rather than go to the actual BLM organization).
Both Pruitt and Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer created a new Culture Committee at UT, and Tee Martin is heading it up. That committee is designed to let Tennessee’s players give coaches feedback on their experience at UT, things they’d like to see done differently in terms of culture, and any ideas they have about enacting change both on and off campus.
All of those actions speak to the kind of chemistry and culture Pruitt and his coaches are trying to build at Tennessee, and several of Tennessee’s commits in the 2021 class have taken notice.
I spoke with a number of the prospects committed to the Vols in the 2021 cycle, and all of them shared a similar message: The actions of Pruitt and his staff have made a pretty strong impact on them all.
Four-star quarterback Kaidon Salter said that seeing Pruitt’s actions and hearing his words over the last few weeks only reaffirmed why he picked Tennessee.
“I knew that coach was a stand-up guy when we had our first meeting,” Salter explained. “I appreciate Coach for the recognition of our culture…in my opinion, it shows he is truly a man of integrity. Which was another plus on why I chose to be a Vol. Not to mention I loved the compassion he has for his team as well as the coaching staff.
“My family and I really appreciate Coach Pruitt’s gesture for the cause. and I’m looking forward to seeing my future teammates wear the black uniforms in support of the cause.”
Four-star running back Cody Brown is appreciative of Pruitt and the University of Tennessee taking an active role in the movement, and he fully supports the Vols wearing black jerseys against Kentucky this season.
“I think it’s really cool that Coach Pruitt and Tennessee are taking an active role in the movement,” Brown said. “Shows us as black players that they really care about us. I’m all for black jerseys and donating to BLM.”
In-state running back Elijah Howard knows that Pruitt will never know what it’s like to be a black athlete in the United States, but he greatly appreciates what the Vols’ third-year coach is doing to support his players and show empathy towards others.
On top of that, it gives Howard even more respect to the man he committed to almost a year ago.
“That makes me feel great as an African American living in the United States with everything that’s going on right now,” Howard said specifically of Pruitt joining his players in the protest in downtown Knoxville. “To have a coach that’s behind you, you know they won’t fully understand how you’re feeling and the day-by-day basis of being an African American male, but if you feel like somebody is on your team, it helps you push through it and gives you so much more respect coming from a player to a coach. It was a great thing to see.”
As for Alabama safety Edwin White, his ongoing discussions with Pruitt have made him feel more like “family” at Tennessee, and it shows him that Pruitt — also an Alabama native — understands things beyond just the football field.
“I think coach Pruitt is doing a tremendous job recruiting us commits and making us feel like family,” White said. “And with the BLM movement, it shows the college and athletes that it’s bigger than the flag and sports and that’s its about the players and families that have been hurt and lost loved ones.”
Lastly, both four-star tight end Miles Campbell and three-star running back Jaylen Wright think Pruitt and Tennessee are showing great leadership by participating in the movement, and Campbell specifically thinks Pruitt has the ability to reach a lot of people and help enact change.
“I think it’s an awesome thing. He has the ability to to lead and be the first of many to help with the BLM movement in college football,” Campbell stated. “He has the ability to influence a lot of people of all races. I thinks it’s amazing. Glad to be a Vol.”
Wright echoed that, adding that he is very much in favor of Tennessee wearing black jerseys this season as an outward statement against racism.
“I feel that what Coach Pruitt is doing shows a lot of respect towards the BLM movement, and the idea of the black jerseys are great because that’s making a stand against racism,” Wright said. “It shows that he is not only just a college football coach, he is another leader of the movement.”
Words can often ring hollow, and that’s been proven especially true in the recruiting world over the years. But Pruitt’s actions have spoken volumes to several future Vols, and other recruits the Vols are still pursuing have taken notice, too.
It’s easy to say something when the world is in upheaval, but it’s another to take action. Pruitt has done more than just speak, and that matters to players, recruits, and their families.