KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Volunteers continued to gain momentum in football recruiting this week as another top in-state player committed to them, catapulting their 2018 class into the nation's top five.
Greg Emerson, a four-star defensive end from North Side High School in Jackson, voiced his commitment during an NFL Network broadcast from The Opening, an elite recruiting camp at Nike headquarters in Oregon.
"I said I was going to do it in December, but I guess I can go ahead and let everybody know," Emerson said Monday. "For the next four years, I'll probably be furthering my education at the University of (Tennessee-) Knoxville."
Emerson's announcement gave Tennessee verbal commitments from six of the state's top nine prospects in the next signing class, based on rankings compiled by 247Sports.com. That group includes Baylor School safety Brendon Harris.
Barring widespread attrition within the class, Tennessee's recruiting efforts could give coach Butch Jones leverage as he nears the 2017 season with some preseason publications suggesting his job security is trending downward.
The status of the Vols' 2018 recruiting class indicates Jones and his retooled staff are successfully appealing to some of the country's most highly sought high school players, even as preseason publications from Athlon Sports and Street & Smith project Tennessee will finish third in the Southeastern Conference's East Division this year.
Emerson told NFL Network that Tennessee's staff "make me feel at home when I come there."
"Not saying that other people don't make you feel at home," he said. "But you know most people don't try and reach out to you as much as they do."
Emerson is Tennessee's seventh four-star recruit committed for the Vols' 2018 class, which has 16 players committed, including one five-star and eight three-star prospects, according to 247Sports. Only Miami, Ohio State and LSU are higher in the team rankings compiled by both 247Sports and Rivals.
The Vols still have a season to play before the recruiting class is cemented, though, and commitments are nonbinding. The earliest high school players in the 2018 recruiting class can sign a binding national letter of intent with a Division I program will come during college football's first-ever early signing period, set for Dec. 20-22 this year. The traditional signing period begins Feb. 7, 2018.
Tennessee athletic director John Currie, who took over this spring, has been publicly supportive of Jones. But Jones has yet to secure a contract extension, and his deal expires after the 2020 season.
"We've had a lot of conversations about our program," Currie said when asked about Jones' contract last month. "But we're really focused on getting ready for the season, doing a great job in recruiting — as he is doing — and getting to know each other. I'm thrilled. I couldn't be more pleased with being able to work with Coach Jones. He cares so much."
After the loss of six players to the NFL draft and a significant revamping of the coaching staff after the Vols went 9-4 last season, Tennessee enters this season with less hype than a year ago.
During next week's trip to SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., the Vols are likely to be tabbed to finish in the middle of the division by media, who are likely to press Jones about the progress made in his first four seasons as coach.
Jones has consistently defended his work, which includes three straight bowl wins and a 30-21 overall record after inheriting a depleted roster from former coach Derek Dooley after the 2012 season.
Contact staff writer David Cobb at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tennessee commitments for the 2018 football recruiting class (star ratings issued by 247Sports.com):
› Cade Mays — five-star offensive tackle; Knoxville Catholic
› Lyn-J Dixon — four-star running back; Taylor County (Butler, Ga.)
› Greg Emerson — four-star defensive end; North Side (Jackson, Tenn.)
› Brendon Harris — four-star safety; Baylor School
› Brant Lawless — four-star defensive tackle; Nashville Christian School
› D’Andre Litaker — four-star defensive tackle; Riverdale (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
› Adrian Martinez — four-star quarterback; Clovis West (Fresno, Calif.)
› Alontae Taylor — four-star athlete; Coffee County Central (Manchester, Tenn.)
› Jamarcus Chatman — three-star defensive tackle; Rome (Ga.)
› Brandon Cross — three-star cornerback; Jones (Orlando, Fla.)
› Anthony Grant — three-star running back; Buford (Ga.)
› Jatavious Harris — three-star wide receiver; Baldwin (Milledgeville, Ga.)
› Tanner Ingle — three-star cornerback; Dr. Phillips (Orlando, Fla.)
› Ollie Lane — three-star offensive guard; Gibbs (Corryton, Tenn.)
› Michael Penix — three-star quarterback; Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa, Fla.)
› Jacob Warren — three-star tight end; Farragut (Knoxville)
This story was updated July 4 at 11:40 p.m.