Could the long nightmare finally be over? If so, this week’s Early Signing Period might be the first step toward moving on.

Considering where Tennessee’s football program has been, a successful recruiting haul is cause for celebration. No, the NCAA and SEC don’t give championship rings nor trophies for recruiting accomplishments, but a week like this could eventually lead to some real hardware.

The Vols held onto all of their planned signees (which was most important), but also added three signees to their 2019 class. That’s a pretty good week.

The Early Signing Period ended Friday but not before the Vols secured a signed national letter of intent from Quavaris Crouch from Harding University in Charlotte, N.C. The 6-2, 230-pound linebacker surprisingly agreed to move his signing up in order to ink with the Vols. Crouch had planned to announce his decision during a televised All-Star event. Instead, he gave the Vols an early Christmas present.

Crouch is one of the highest-rated prospects in UT’s class. The 4-star prospect is rated the No. 1 prospect in North Carolina, the No. 2 athlete prospect in the country and the No. 39 overall prospect in the nation. He just missed the cutoff for being a 5-star, but he gives the Vols 2 of the Top 40 players in America.

“Quavaris is a winner,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt told 247Sports. “He is a leader. He is a guy that can play all four linebacker positions. He is a guy that can help change the program. We are very excited to have him.”

The Vols had to upgrade at linebacker. The Vols didn’t get consistent playmaking from that unit last season and will have to deal with the departure of Quart’e Sapp, who is leaving early to enter the NFL Draft.

Pruitt’s comments about his signees have been insightful as to what he wants from his players. Pruitt, as he did with Crouch, often mentioned winning and leadership as key traits that he’s recruiting. Sometimes such phrases are used for overachieving, lower-rated players. That’s a good way for coaches to pump up a poorly rated class. Not in this case.

Crouch is an All-American with a fantastic pedigree. If he indeed has the intangible qualities that Pruitt referred to, then Crouch is a player to build a program around.

The Vols also seemingly secured an offensive weapon to build around when 4-star running back Eric Gray signed with the Vols on Thursday. Gray’s signing was somewhat expected but very much needed. The hope is that the four-star prospect can be an explosive playmaker that the Vols haven’t had in ages.

Gray was one of many highlights. UT’s 2019 class ranks sixth best in the SEC and 13th in the nation.

The Vols still have some highly-rated commitments waiting to sign until the next signing period in February. If UT can hold onto those and add a surprise or two, that would be further cause for optimism. Given what transpired this week, there’s no reason to think the Vols can’t do it again.