Jeremy Pruitt's first Tennessee recruiting class light on in-state talent

First-year Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt said now that his players have shown him their best, he knows what to expect from them.
photo First-year Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt said now that his players have shown him their best, he knows what to expect from them.

Tennessee football coach Jeremy Pruitt will make his debut appearance at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. The Times Free Press is previewing key topics Pruitt likely will be asked to address when the Volunteers take their turn in front of reporters in Atlanta.

Where are the in-state players?

Perhaps the question will be phrased more delicately, but Pruitt can expect to be asked in some fashion about his approach to recruiting talent from the Volunteer State.

The reason is simple. Only one of the 13 players committed to the Vols' 2019 recruiting class is a high school senior in Tennessee, and the state's top prospects in the class continue pledging to other schools.

Top prospects such as Nashville receiver Lance Wilhoite (Oregon), Murfreesboro cornerback Woodi Washington (Oklahoma), Nashville linebacker Kane Patterson (Ohio State) and Memphis running back Eric Gray (Michigan) have announced their commitments to other schools this month. Just one of the state's top eight high school seniors remains uncommitted.

The Vols' only in-state high school commitment is from Nashville offensive guard Jackson Lampley. Two other commitments in the class have ties to the state. East Mississippi Community College defensive lineman Darel Middleton is originally from Oak Ridge, while IMG Academy (Bradenton, Florida) offensive lineman Chris Akporoghene previously played high school football in east Tennessee.

Instead, their focus to this point has been on talent-rich Georgia. They have five commitments from the Peach State. Pruitt said during a Big Orange Caravan stop in Atlanta this summer that he considers the Atlanta area as "in state."

"I think it's a good advantage for the University of Tennessee," Pruitt said. "Proximity. You take out Georgia and Georgia Tech and probably Clemson and Auburn, and we're as close as anybody else is. And there's more players than all those teams can take."

The measured approach to recruiting the state of Tennessee marks a departure from the Butch Jones era strategy of aggressively pursuing the state's best players. Nine of the state's top 11 players in the 2014 class chose the Vols at the end of Jones' first full recruiting cycle. In-state talent remained a priority throughout his five-year tenure.

When Pruitt was introduced as coach Dec. 7, he said, "We're going to start right here in this state. And we're going to start from Knoxville and work our way out. This is going to be our state."

More recent comments from Pruitt and an examination of the Vols' 2019 class shows finding players who fit the program he wants to build is more important to Pruitt than their home state or their recruiting ranking.

Pruitt was asked at the Big Orange Caravan stop in Memphis how important it is to win the recruiting battle in that town. His answer was telling.

"Well, I think it's important wherever you recruit to make sure you identify the guys that meet the criteria that you're looking for," he said. "Figure out what fits your system, your program. Then once you figure them out, it don't matter the city. You need to be able to go in there and get the guys that you want to get."

Tennessee's 2019 recruiting class is ranked ninth in the Southeastern Conference. There are still several months remaining in the recruiting cycle, but Pruitt's priority is becoming more evident.

"I think that Jeremy Pruitt's staff is not just taking a lot of in-state guys because they're highly regarded and trying to build momentum," scouting director Barton Simmons told Sports Radio WNML in Knoxville. "Because of that, I think you've got a group of guys that they're guys that fit, and if anything, they will outplay their ranking as opposed to underperforming their ranking, which is sort of what we were used to seeing under Butch Jones."

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Chris Akporoghene | OT | Bradenton, Florida (IMG Academy) | 3-star (247Sports) | 4-star (Rivals) Aaron Beasley | S/ATH | Franklin, Georgia (Heard County) | 3-star Sean Brown | TE | Rome, Georgia (Coosa) | 3-star Jalil Clemons | DE | Starkville, Mississippi (Starkville) | 3-star LeDarrius Cox | DT | Mobile, Alabama (McGill-Toolen) | 3-star Anthony Harris | S | Havelock, North Carolina (Havelock) | 4-star Lakia Henry | LB| Vidalia, Georgia (Dodge City CC) | 4-star Ramel Keyton | WR | Marietta, Georgia (Marietta) | 4-star Jackson Lampley | OL | Nashville (MBA) | 4-star Jackson Lowe | TE | Cartersville, Georgia (Cartersville) | 3-star Brian Maurer | QB | Ocala, Florida (West Port) | 3-star Darel Middleton | DL | Oak Ridge, Tennessee (East Mississippi CC) | 3-star Wanya Morris | OL | Loganville, Georgia (Grayson) | 4-star (Rivals), 5-star (247)