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Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Josh Heupel has yet to reel in his first 2022 commitment since becoming Tennessee's football coach in late January.

Since Tennessee lured UCF football coach Josh Heupel in late January to clean up the massive mess left by predecessor Jeremy Pruitt, the Volunteers have lost the state's premier quarterback prospect to Alabama and the state's top running back recruit to Georgia.

On Friday, the top overall Volunteer State prospect for the 2022 recruiting cycle, defensive tackle Walter Nolen of Cordova, announced a final eight that included the Southeastern Conference foursome of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU, along with Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon and Southeastern California. The Vols didn't make the cut for Nolen, who plays on a St. Benedict High School team that is coached by former Tennessee defensive lineman Marlon Walls.

The Vols are having to assemble their 2022 class not knowing what NCAA sanctions might await from admitted Level I and Level II violations that occurred under Pruitt and amid a recruiting dead period that runs through May 31.

"It's about developing relationships, and it's about pouring into kids," Heupel said Friday afternoon. "There is no substitute for that, and in some ways we're a little bit behind just in the timing as far as when we got hired and the nature of that — some of the questions that surrounded our program. Our coaches have been working on those relationships with players."

Tennessee held its fifth spring practice Friday morning, which was also the first in full pads.

The Vols enter Easter weekend as the only SEC program without any commitments for 2022. Every other league school has at least two, with Georgia's 12 nonbinding pledges and LSU's 11 leading the way.

Martin High five-star quarterback Ty Simpson committed to Alabama in late February, while Murfreesboro Oakland running back Jordan James committed to Georgia earlier this week, but Heupel insists that better days on the recruiting front could transpire sooner than later.

"This is going to be a place where guys are going to be able to compete at the highest level," Heupel said. "They're going to have a great attitude, and they're going to have fun inside of our building, whether that's in the strength and conditioning area or how we practice and what we do. It's going to be fast, and it's going to be fun.

"Real relationships are going to be formed. We're going to be real in who we are, and I think as recruits see that, they're going to find out this is a pretty special place to come play football. I think recruits will see that in this cycle."

 

Davis turning heads

Coaching changes can open opportunity doors for every player on the roster, and offensive lineman Dayne Davis seems to be taking advantage.

The 6-foot-7, 315-pound redshirt sophomore walk-on out of Sullivan East High School in Bluff City has yet to play a snap for the Vols but has earned some reps this spring with the first five.

"The guy has just been rock solid since we got here in the way that he competes and his attention to detail," Heupel said. "All of those guys get graded every day, and the rotation up front in practice one was based on how they graded out in everything they were doing leading up to spring ball. Now you get graded every day in practice, and based on that, that kind of sets the rotation as far as whether you're playing with the ones, twos or threes that day.

"Up front, we have some flexibility with some of the guys who have played on the left and the right, but the biggest thing to me is that our guys are playing from the snap to the echo of the whistle. At the end of the day, it's about your effort, and he's a guy who has been really consistent from the snap to the whistle."

 

Odds and ends

Redshirt junior linebacker Jeremy Banks and junior linebacker Roman Harrison were spotted during Friday morning's portion of practice that was open to the media. Heupel said the two will be allowed to do more and more as spring progresses but is not expecting either to go through full-contact situations. ... Heupel hopes to have a final decision on the suspended quartet of redshirt freshman linebacker Martavius French and three early enrollees — quarterback Kaidon Salter, defensive lineman Isaac Washington and linebacker Aaron Willis — before the end of spring workouts. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman James Robinson is not practicing right now. Heupel on quarterbacks Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker and Brian Maurer: "Our guys have been competing really hard, and I think they've been phenomenal in the meeting room. Their attentiveness to the details and the sense of urgency within that has really increased over the last two to three practices."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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