It took some waiting, but Tennessee’s signing class finished with a bang.
The Vols closed out their 2019 class with a strong finish Wednesday, which has become far more insignificant since the introduction of the Early Signing Period in 2017. In his first full class, UT coach Jeremy Pruitt added two highly-rated prospects that helped the Vols’ class rank No. 11 in the country.
The question now is: Is this the class that will vault the Vols back into SEC East contention?
That will play out over the next few years. Georgia isn’t going anywhere. The Dawgs reloaded with the No. 2 class in the country. Florida finished No. 9.
But Tennessee’s class included 2 5-stars. Only five teams in the country signed more. And both are the types of foundational pieces that Pruitt coveted.
Five-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright from Huntington (WVa.) High School wasn’t a surprise. He had been trending to the Vols for weeks. However, his addition to the class gives UT one of the top offensive line classes in the nation. The 6-6, 320-pound prospect will be expected to contribute early, as will fellow 5-star offensive tackle prospect Wanya Morris from Grayson (Ga.) Loganville, who is already enrolled at UT. The Vols needed to get more physical to match Pruitt’s style. They took a big step in that direction with this class.
The surprise of the day came when Henry To’oto’o committed to UT. The 4-star linebacker from De La Salle, a prep power in Concord (Calif.), selected the Vols on ESPN over two finalists: Alabama and Washington. It was a major coup for Pruitt. There was every reason to think To’oto’o would end up at Alabama given their recent run of success or stay closer to home by signing with Washington. Instead, he chose the Vols in what was one of the more surprising commitments in the country. But it wasn’t quite over yet. Some drama followed To’oto’o’s announcement.
To’oto’o didn’t send his national letter of intent to UT until hours after his announcement. Was he reconsidering his decision? Given all that Tennessee fans had been through over the past decade, the delay had disaster written all over it. UT fans had every reason to panic. However, the all-important papers eventually came in and hope had been restored that Pruitt would finally be the coach that could turn things around for UT’s football program.
Sure, there were some misses Wednesday. Most notably, 3-star defensive tackle LeDarrius Cox from Mobile, Ala., backed off his UT commitment and signed with Ole Miss. It was a loss, but it was easily offset by To’oto’o’s signing.
So have the Vols turned the corner? Is this the first step to returning UT football to its glory days and championship contention. Perhaps.
To’oto’o’s signing was significant far beyond what his play will bring to the program. UT, as it used to do under former coach Phillip Fulmer, beat countless elite programs to nab a top-flight prospect from California. That’s significant. UT fans also witnessed the emergence of one of the top, young recruiters in the nation. Tight ends coach Brian Neidermeyer, who is just 30 years old, was named the top recruiter in the country by 247Sports.
From top to bottom, there is clearly more optimism in UT’s athletic department than there has been in years. The Vols have the No. 1 basketball team in the country, which Pruitt noted as a boost to football recruiting, and is winning tough recruiting battles that it had been losing more often than not. Pruitt didn’t have to rely on legacy prospects to build his class like former coach Butch Jones often had to. Pruitt identified who he wanted and worked tirelessly to land them.
Before a parade is planned, let’s remember that UT fans are used to getting excited and having the rug pulled out from under them. That could still happen. There’s a track record that should still be considered. However, Pruitt has already shown more ability than his previous two predecessors in recruiting. That’s reason to think the Vols are on the path to success.
To reach a higher level, this class will have to pan out and the Vols will have to add another strong class to build a roster in Pruitt’s image. As excited as UT fans should be after Wednesday, there is still a bit more waiting to come.