There’s no shortage of ties to Tennessee for 2021 in-state kicker JT Carver.
The 5-foot-11, 175 lbs. specialist may attend Westview High School in Martin, Tennessee, but he lived in Knoxville for most of his life while his father worked at the University of Tennessee. His sister is a current student at UT.
Carver is even surrounded by Vols while he perfects his craft. He works with former Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit, and his first coach when he began kicking in middle school was Alex Walls, a standout kicker for the Vols from 2008-12. Tennessee’s kicker from 2014-17, Aaron Medley, is even present at some workouts.
So, when an offer from Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt to be a preferred walk-on came, a dream came true for the Tennessee native who grew up a Vols fan.
“I was on the phone with Coach (Todd) Watson earlier in the day and he just let me know that Coach Pruitt wanted to get on the phone with me at some point in the night,” Carver told Rocky Top Insider. “It was 9:00 ET time, so I told him I would make sure I was ready.
“(Pruitt) got me on the phone and started talking to me about what he sees in my kicking game and how I can be an asset. Then he offered me a preferred walk-on spot and told me he really want me to come here and compete for a starting job right away.”
Pruitt originally wanted to see Carver kick in person before offering him. But with COVID-19 shutting down the possibility of recruits visiting coaches on campus, or attending camps, Pruitt had to rely on word-of-mouth.
“(Pruitt) likes how consistent I’ve been throughout my high school career,” Carver said. “He’s heard form the special teams coaches and all of the analysts about how powerful my leg is and how accurate I’ve been. He was pumped about all that.”
Tennessee was the second preferred walk-on offer for Carver. He also holds the same offer from Michigan, while he has a full scholarship offer to play at Tennessee-Martin. Carver is also hearing from Ole Miss, North Carolina, Arizona and Memphis.
A decision from Carver could come very soon. Tennessee doesn’t currently have a placekicker committed. Current Vols kicker Brent Cimaglia is set to graduate following the upcoming season.
“They’ve (Tennessee) talked to me and let me know he’s (Cimaglia) graduating,” Carver said. “They’re looking for a guy that can come in and start, and they let me know I have a really good chance to come in and start.
“They’re looking for me to kick field goals and kickoff.”
Aside from growing up a Tennessee fan, part of the appeal to kicking for the Vols is Pruitt himself. Carver loves Pruitt’s honesty, and how the third-year head coach doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
“I’ve met (Pruitt) on two or three visits up there,” Carver said. “He’s taken time to talk to my family and he’s a real down-to-earth, personable guy. When you’re talking to him, everything he’s saying to you, you 100 percent believe. He’s going to do his best to make sure whatever he’s telling you happens.
“On all of my visits, the coaching staff has done a good job of communicating and showing me how important they think I am, and letting me know if I come to Tennessee, I won’t be a preferred walk-on guy. They’ll treat me like I’m apart of the team like everyone else on scholarship.”
Then there’s the tradition of Tennessee’s storied program that stands out, too.
“First thing that sticks out about Tennessee is the tradition,” Carver said. “It’s the best tradition in college football. One of the strongest fanbases, too. I think Coach Pruitt is doing a great job of recruiting and rebuilding that winning culture.”