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(Photo courtesy of Jeremy Comer’s Twitter)

Jeremy Comer assumed the baseball Gods were sending him a message the night that Tony Vitello’s Tennessee baseball program offered him a scholarship.

The 2023 centerfielder and right-handed pitcher from Overland Park, Kansas was fishing at a local park when his high school coach instructed him to give Vitello a call. Vitello extended Comer an offer to be a part of the Tennessee program on the call, and five minutes later, Comer caught his personal-best bass.

It doesn’t stop there, however. As Comer was leaving, he passed a man wearing a Tennessee polo on the walking trail.

“I thought that was pretty cool and I didn’t think the night could get any better,” Comer told Rocky Top Insider. “It wasn’t my first offer, but when I got my offer from Tennessee, I knew I wanted to be a part of their program and help them make it to Omaha.”

Comer committed to Tennessee shortly after his conversation with Vitello. The 6-foot-3, 160-pounder chose the Vols over Kansas State, Arkansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State.

“It was just a normal call with me and my family,” Comer said of his call to Vitello to tell him he was committed. “We were just going over some more questions. My mom asked one of her questions and I just told Coach Vitello, ‘I don’t have any more questions, except I have one more thing, I’m ready to become a Volunteer.’ He was really pumped up and really, really excited. And my family was pumped up to be a part of the family.

“Really excited to be a Volunteer.”

Vitello himself was the main attraction to Tennessee for Comer. Comer’s old pitching coach played for Vitello when Vitello was at Missouri, and had nothing but good things to say about the program that he runs.

It wasn’t just Vitello. Tennessee assistant Josh Elander also played an important role in Comer’s recruitment.

“Coming into the recruiting process, I really liked the whole idea, and I had heard, that Tennessee had an awesome coaching staff,” Comer said. “I later found out that they do actually have the best coaches hands down. Coach Vitello has almost been like a best friend to me through the recruiting process. Same with Coach (Josh) Elander. He’s been amazing in terms of all of the information he’s given me. What came down to making my decision was the overall relationships with the coaches, and how much better I thought I could be with them.”

Comer has impressed many this summer on the travel ball circuit. One play while playing in a tournament down in Georgia caught the eye of Vitello.

“Coach Vitello was watching one of the livestreams and there was a ball back in the left-center gap on the warning track, and I was shaded in the right-center gap, and I ran all the way out there and made a diving catch at the wall,” Comer said. “Coach Vitello mentioned the outfield, defensively, is really important to my game.”

Comer is a two-way player for his high school and plans on pursuing a two-way career once he gets to college. He realizes things can change, but he’s focused on extending his career as a two-way player as long as possible.

As far as what position in the outfield he’ll play, it’ll be centerfield.

“I do play the corners a little bit, but centerfield is my home,” Comer said. “I like to be a leader in the outfield and do anything I can to help the guys around me.”

From a pitching standpoint, Comer is excited to play under the watchful eye of Tennessee pitching coach Frank Anderson who is one of the best pitching coaches in the country. Anderson’s track record with two-way players, as well as Tennessee’s business school, is what attracted Comer to the Vols.

“Overall, I did know Tennessee had an awesome business school,” Comer said. “That was something I was very interested in. Overall, Tennessee is a really good school.

“I was following them this past spring and they were really good. On track to make it deep in the year.”

As for what Comer brings on the mound, he’s not the hardest-throwing pitcher at this stage of his high school, but he’s confident in his ability to throw strikes.

“I’m not too high up in the 80’s velocity wise,” Comer said. “I’m about 83 right now.

“I can command my fastball, changeup, curveball and slider pretty well. I’d say that’s my main strength, being able to command my off-speed pitches. I think that’ll help the team down the road.”

    Photo by Jake Nichols/RTI

    Managing editor Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

    “What’s the over/under that Alabama draws Vandy and Missouri on this year’s schedule? I’ll hang up and listen.” – Buck Nasty

    Ben: 100 percent. Just kidding, I think. In all seriousness, it’s ridiculous that the SEC is rumored to be catering to Alabama and Florida because both programs complained about potentially adding the 2021 and 2022 cross-division opponent. I fully expect for the SEC to give particular teams in the conference preferential treatment, which is ridiculous. I understand the conference wanting to try and make things fair for everyone, but by rebuilding a schedule, they’re doing the opposite. The fairest, easiest thing to do was just add the next two conference games that were on the schedule.

    “When do you think the SEC will come out with the schedules?” – Bill

    Ben: Should be sometime today (Friday). The rumors circulating throughout the SEC’s media this week has been that the schedule was going to be dropped Thursday afternoon or at some point on Friday.

    “What newcomers are you most looking forward to seeing” – Triple O

    Ben: Quite a few as a matter of fact. On the offensive side, obviously I’m excited to see what Harrison Bailey can do, but I’m also excited to see what his five freshmen wide receivers can do. At one point or another this offseason, each of the freshmen receivers have been brought up in conversations about newcomers who are standing out. Jimmy Holiday, Malachi Wideman, Dee Beckwith, Jalin Hyatt and Jimmy Calloway all have the opportunity to contribute early.

    Defensively, I believe Tyler Baron, Morven Jospeh and Key Lawrence are going to have an opportunity to receive significant playing time early on. Baron and Joseph will compete for the starting outside linebacker job, while Lawrence should be able to compete for a significant role in the secondary as well. I’m also excited to see what Doneiko Slaughter can do. The coaches were extremely high on him when they signed him in February.

    “Which players do you think could make the biggest surprise impact on the field?” – Roy Rogers McFreely

    Ben: For those who are not as familiar with Tennessee’s roster it’ll be Deangelo Gibbs. The talk in regards to the Vols is that they must replace Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway, and Josh Palmer is the one who is going to step up and try to replace their production. Palmer won’t be able to do it on his own and the hope is that Gibbs will be able to live up to the hype he generated in practice last year. The receiver that will surprise people is Brandon Johnson. He’s the forgotten man, and he led the team in receiving as a sophomore in 2017.

    Defensively, I could see a situation in which J.J. Peterson surprises people. He hasn’t lived up to his recruiting ranking so far, but he’s finally healthy. Jeremy Pruitt has maintained since the end of the season that he believes Peterson will finally have the ability to legitimately contribute now that he’s healthy, has been in the strength and conditioning program and has a better understanding of the playbook now.

    “Which receiver is most likely to step up alongside Josh Palmer this season?” – Ben Hodge

    Ben: I essentially answered this in the last question, but I believe it’ll be Gibbs. While redshirting last season after transferring from Georgia, Gibbs generated quite the buzz to his name. He continually beat the first team defensive backs on scout team and made several highlight-reel catches. He’ll have to go and prove it in his first year playing wide receiver at this level, but he has the athleticism to be a big time contributor for the Vols.

    “What impact do you think Dee Beckwith will have and what position will he play? Seems to be overlooked yet having a lot of potential IMO” — VolJuice

    Ben: This is an interesting question because all five freshmen receivers have the potential to contribute early and often. Beckwith will have an opportunity to contribute more than the others because he is extremely versatile and can line up in multiple positions. He’ll start out at wide receiver, but I’ll be interested to see if he starts fall camp at tight end considering the injury to Austin Pope. Beckwith definitely has the opportunity to play well early on.

    “Do you think Coach Pruitt gives Emmit Gooden a second chance if the charges against him or dropped? What are the chances that Trey Smith opts out of this season because of COVID-19?” — Matt Daniels 

    Ben: If the charges are dropped, sure, I could see a situation in which Pruitt offers Gooden a second chance. But the police report was pretty detailed. According to the report, Gooden smashed a glass jar on the top of his girlfriend’s head. There’s no coming back from that. It’s also very telling to me that Pruitt immediately kicked him off the team. In other situations, he’s let the legal process play out with Bryce Thompson and Jeremy Banks.

    I would be stunned if Trey Smith opted out. Not necessarily from a health standpoint, but Smith isn’t the type to think of himself first. Smith is all about what’s best for Tennessee. So, even if it makes sense for him to sit out because of his previous health issues, he’s the type of guy who wouldn’t even consider sitting out. And would probably slap you for even considering it.

    “Do you think Khristian Zachary is our next commit?” – CosmoKramer

    Ben: I would be surprised if the three-star defensive end was the next to commit to Tennessee. That doesn’t mean the Vols aren’t in a good position, because they are, but other names such as Tyrion-Ingram Dawkins are closer to making a decision. The Vols are in a good position with Dawkins as well.

    “With the way all of the power five conferences are now playing a 10-game only schedule, how many Vols games do you think will be blacked out?” — VFLPilgrim 

    Ben: I don’t believe any games will be blacked out, especially with all of the possibilities with technology in 2020. Broadcasts will look different as we’ve seen with other sports that have resumed, but all games will still be televised. There’s too many channels for them not to be broadcasted.

    “Will there still be bowl games and what do the logistics of the postseason look like? – NCVol79

    Ben: I personally would be surprised if there were bowl games, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t take place. COVID numbers could improve by then to make it more possible to play games by the time bowl season rolls around. I just don’t think decision-makers are going to go through with events that don’t pertain to naming a champion.

    “Why not have a spring season? You can have full stadiums because there will be a vaccine. Won’t lose money.” – Stevie Duckett

    Ben: Most of the big time programs are anti-spring season because that would mean playing without their best players. From Tennessee’s perspective, the Vols likely wouldn’t have Trey Smith as the NFL Draft will take place in April, and other Vols could potentially be drafted.

      (Photo courtesy of Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

      Tennessee made the top 11 for one of the premier basketball prospects on Thursday night.

      Five-star 2022 power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield included the Vols in his list of top schools as he narrowed down his interest. Tennessee joined Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia, Kansas, Ole Miss, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Baylor, Georgetown and Howard.

       

      View this post on Instagram

       

      then there was!1️⃣1️⃣…

      A post shared by Brandon Huntley-Hatfield 🧸 (@gupaveli) on

      Huntley-Hatfield is the No. 8 overall prospect in the 247Sports ratings, the No. 7 overall prospect according to ESPN and the No. 5 overall player according to Rivals. 247 has Huntley-Hatfield originally ranked as the second-best power forward, while ESPN as him ranked as the best power forward in the class of 2022.

      Originally from Clarksville, Tennessee, Huntley-Hatfield, currently plays at Scotland Performance Institute in Scotland, Pennsylvania. He recently transferred from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where he was teammates with current Tennessee freshman Jaden Springer.

      Huntley-Hatfield has played AAU basketball with former Vols point guard Bobby Maze’s AAU program B. Maze Elite.

      Kentucky is the current favorite to land Huntley-Hatfield according to 247’s crystal ball, which has all six predictions going to the Wildcats. Huntley-Hatfield’s cousin, Alex Poythress, played at Kentucky.

      Tennessee was Huntley-Hatfield’s first scholarship offer on June 16, 2019, but has yet to take a visit. He has taken official visits to Ole Miss and Memphis, while taking unofficial visits to Vanderbilt and Kentucky twice. The only coaches to have visited him thus far are Kentucky head coach John Calipari and Joel Justus, twice.

      The Vols just signed the No. 4 overall 2020 recruiting class in the country according to 247 thanks to the signatures of five-star combo-guard Jaden Springer, five-star shooting guard Keon Johnson, four-star power forward Corey Walker and three-star small forward Malachi Wideman.

        (Photo courtesy of JT Carver’s instagram)

        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.”

          (Photo via Jim Burgess)

          It would be mighty difficult to allow college students on campus, and then keep student-athletes isolated off campus from September to December.

          I wanted to get that out of the way first, because a college football bubble was already unlikely to happen. Now it’s even more unlikely as fall camp is scheduled to start in a week on Friday, Aug. 17. But if there was a college football bubble, similar to the one the NBA has instituted since June and is still in as they complete what is left of their regular season, I have an idea of what it could like, specifically for the SEC and Tennessee.

          Like the NBA, the games would be zoned for one region. In this case, we’ll go with Atlanta: the football capital of the South and a logical location. Most league campuses are within a 5-6 hour drive of the city. The only schools that aren’t are LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Missouri, all of which are at least seven hours away.

          Atlanta is also the site of the 2020 SEC Championship Game. Outside of not housing the SEC’s league offices, which reside a few hours away in Birmingham, Atlanta is an SEC town, despite it being home to only one power five team that doesn’t reside in the conference.

          All 14 teams could be housed at various hotels in the area, adhering to the same strict guidelines NBA players have had to follow to ensure social distancing and limited contact outside of games.

          Again, telling players who are supposed to be students first and athletes second — amateur athletes at that — to stay in one place for at least three months with no visitors would be hard to justify. For the sake of the idea, however, the bubble has been a success for the NBA thus far. Especially when you consider the fact that the MLB opted not to go down a similar path and has already had to postpone games due to COVID-19 outbreaks since the season started late last month.

          As for the games, ideally the locations would be limited to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the site of the SEC Championship Game since 2017. But playing multiple games on the same field in a single weekend would be hard to pull off.  Like the Big Ten and Pac 12 schedules that were released in the past two weeks, SEC games would be played between Thursday-Saturday with Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosting three games throughout the weekend and various high school stadiums throughout the Atlanta metro area.

          Other venues could include Kennesaw State’s Fifth Third Stadium or Georgia State’s Turner Field when those programs are not playing at home.

          The bubble could also apply to other power five conferences as well. The Big Ten could isolate and play in Indianapolis or Chicago, the Big 12 in Dallas, the ACC in Charlotte and the Pac 12 in Los Angeles.

          If a bubble were possible, it could go a long way in the 2020 college football season being played out in full, but it’s a little late to throw such a drastic plan together. With players from the Big Ten and Pac 12 threatening to boycott the season over health and safety concerns, as well as for the empowerment for student-athletes, league officials would have a hard time convincing those same players to uproot their lives even more so by staying isolated off campus.

          For now, we’ll just have to sit and wait for the SEC to release their conference only schedule and hope for the best.

            (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

            The USA Today Preseason Amway Coaches Top 25 Poll was released on Thursday.

            While the poll did not include Tennessee, the Vols did rack up 111 votes, tying Boise State for the most votes received by a team not included in the rankings.

            Three of Tennessee’s confirmed 2020 opponents made the top 10, however, with Alabama and Georgia coming in at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively and Florida debuting at No. 8.

            Six SEC teams in total appeared in the poll with Kentucky receiving 73 votes and Mississippi State receiving 9 outside of the top 25.

            The Vols original week two opponent in the Oklahoma Sooners also earned top 10 status, grabbing the No. 6 ranking, but due to the SEC’s conference only schedule, which has yet to be officially announced, the Sooners were eliminated from Tennessee’s already daunting slate.

            Although it remains to be seen who the Vols will draw in their upcoming adjusted schedule, it is likely that they will have at least one other from the league that were ranked in the poll, with LSU (5), Auburn (11) and Texas A&M (13) also representing the league in the top 15.

            Initial reports after the SEC announced last week that the league would be going with a conference-only scheduling format indicated that Tennessee would face Ole Miss at home with a road contest at defending national champion LSU in addition to the SEC East title and their annual crossover contest against Alabama, but that was not official.

            The full Preseason Coaches Poll can be seen here.