Former Tennessee standout kicker James Wilhoit has seen first hand how much recent Vols commit JT Carver has improved over the course of his high school career.
Wilhoit has been working with Carver going on four years now. Since Carver attended one of Wilhoit’s kicking camps as a freshman in high school, the two have worked together 8-10 times a year.
“He’s (Carver) continued to improve every single year,” Wilhoit told Rocky Top Insider Wednesday night. “He’s come a long way in the past three years. He was always a really good kicker, but there were a couple of kickers who were maybe ahead of him when he was beginning, but you could just see with his work ethic, when you tell him do something, when you ask him to do a mechanical change, he puts everything into it. That’s what separates good from great, the ability to take coaching and to improve. He buys in, he works hard and he knows the things he needs to improve on. Very mature in that way and an extremely hard-worker.
“That’s the great thing about him going to Tennessee, he’s going to be very coachable and do anything the coaches ask him to do.”
Carver committed to the Vols on Wednesday night less than a week after receiving a preferred walk-on offer from Jeremy Pruitt. The Westview High School product out of Martin, Tennessee also held a preferred walk-on offer from Michigan, and was hearing from schools such as Ole Miss, Arizona, North Carolina and Memphis.
Kohl’s kicking, who hosts many camps throughout the year and ranks hundreds of specialists, lists Carver as a five-star and the No. 14 overall kicker in the country.
“The overall talent, he’s the type of guy as a ball-striker, and how balanced he is, and how consistent he is, he’s going to be able to come in and kick at a high-percentage right off the bat,” Wilhoit said. “He’s not the type of guy you’re looking to shore up his mechanics — he’s a finished product. He’s very smooth with what he does.
“I feel he’s one of the top field goal kickers in the country.”
Kohl’s kicking agrees with Wilhoit’s assessment of Carver. Jamie Kohl, who runs the kicking camps and evaluates the kickers, wrote in his evaluation of Carver that “he’s proven to be a very dependable field goal kicker” and that he “trusts Carver on field goals about as much as anyone in the 2021 class.”
Kohl saw Carver kick at a camp in Gatlinburg that had around 700 kickers in attendance. The fact that Kohl’s takeaway from that performance was that he trusts Carver as much as anyone was a talking point that stood-out above all else to Wilhoit.
“That’s a huge honor,” Wilhoit said. “I’m going to be a little bit bias, but Jamie doesn’t have any reason to say that. He’s seen his progression, he’s seen the consistency with every performance as he’s gone to his camps.
“JT is just a guy that really doesn’t get phased by anything. He’s very consistent and he’s exactly what Tennessee needs, and that’s somebody that has to come in and replace one of the best kicker’s in Tennessee history.”
Carver will be responsible for filling the shoes of current Tennessee senior kicker Brent Cimaglia in 2021. Cimaglia is one of the nation’s best kickers and one of the greatest at his position to ever play for the Vols. Replacing Cimaglia is something that Wilhoit feels Carver will be able to do. Not only because he has the leg to do so, but also because he has the mental makeup to do so as well.
“That’s a lot to ask of anybody,” Wilhoit said. “Even Brent (Cimaglia) took his lumps as he played as a freshman. It’s one of those things where you have to be mature, you have to be a competitor and those are things that JT is.
“It’s going to help as well that he’s coming in, in January, and he’s going to be able to become accustomed to everything. That’s one of the hardest things for any player, but especially a kicker, is when you get into a college weight room while you’re adjusting to campus and all those things, and oh by the way, you’re going to be kicking in front of thousands of people and on national television. It’s a lot more difficult and he’ll definitely have a chance to compete right away.”
Wilhoit views Carver as a complete kicker, but he would like to see him improve on his kickoffs. Entering a college weight room will assist Carver in doing so. As will having veteran specialists such as Paxton Brooks, who was one of the best kickoff specialists in the country last year, assisting him.
“His kickoffs are strong,” Wilhoit said. “He’s in the top of his class on kickoffs, but he’s one of the best five or six field goal kickers in the country. That’s where, to continue to be a complete kicker, is going to help him.
“When it comes to field goals, he’s going to walk in day one and have a chance to compete and help. He’s got a lot of upside, but he’s extremely consistent as well. Tennessee is getting a good one.”