Whitehaven trio highlight Tennessee's recruiting push in Memphis
It’s rare for one high school to have 3 football players heading to the same school, in the same recruiting class. Rarer still for that trio to each play the same position. But that’s what will happen later this week when Whitehaven (Tenn.) High School linebackers Bryson Eason (4-star), Martavius French (4-star) and Tamarion McDonald (3-star) each sign with the University of Tennessee. Whitehaven head coach Rodney Saulsberry said he wasn’t surprised to see them choose the same school to further their athletic and academic careers.
“They had about 5-6 different Power 5 schools that were giving them the opportunity to play together,” Saulsberry told SDS. “Schools kept watching them and offers kept coming, so I knew as that opportunity continued to present itself that it would be an option.
“They’re very good friends and have played together since 7th grade and have been teammates all that time. We call them the ‘3 Amigos.’ They are very close-knit.
“The key thing is that they aren’t a package deal. All 3 of them on their own merit are worthy of being Power 5 FBS quality athletes. It’s just unique that they all fit on the same team at same time and live the dream to play together in college.”
— Mike Ceide (@MCeide_WREG3) October 24, 2019
Tennessee plays a 3-4 defense, which presents the opportunity for more linebackers to see the field. That was one of the factors in their decision.
“We play a similar defense here at our high school,” Saulsberry said. “They could see themselves in the defense, how it fits, how it works together, and they already were aware of some of the things that they would do. Obviously, it’ll be ramped up when they go to college, but they could see and envision themselves in the position that they play, because they currently do that in what they play now. It definitely helped with the scheme that (defensive coordinator Derrick) Ansley and (head coach Jeremy) Pruitt have put in place there at Tennessee.”
Saulsberry added, “It’s all about feel and having a feel with the coaching staff. At some point we thought that might happen with Arkansas, but something wasn’t feeling right there and obviously that worked out with that way with coaching staff was not able to stay together (Razorbacks head coach Chad Morris was fired a month ago).
“Being in-state helps, but just having the fit and feel with that coaching staff and knowing what they plan on doing with them on defense, and obviously what they can do to help them to fulfill their dreams of possibly playing at the next level as well.”
I asked Saulsberry what makes each of these 4-star recruits so special.
Bryson Eason: “Bryson is a physical freak of nature. He is a large young man and extremely athletic for a kid his size (6-2, 255). A lot of people projected that he would be too big to play linebacker, but I told them all the time that the kid has the flexibility, the speed, the agility and that makes him a throwback, but a true, new age middle linebacker. We are excited. He will get better as he goes to college. He is a marquee player and marquee prospect.”
Martavius French: “Martavius (6-2, 240) has grown tremendously. The biggest thing for his growth has been on the football IQ side. He is extremely savvy on the football field with his anticipation, so he brings the thunder. He is flying around the field making impact licks. He really makes an impact on the game and he has the spirit and the fire as well, so he is a fiery leader. And he brings passion to the game.”
Tamarion McDonald: “It is all about versatility for Tamarion (6-1, 218). He is a true athlete. He can play outside linebacker, inside linebacker, strong safety, free safety … he can play cornerback, wide receiver, tight end, quarterback … and he is even our punter. He is the true definition of ‘athlete.’ He can play anywhere on the football field. He has a high ceiling with the versatility. He is a hybrid guy that we see being able to do a lot of things on defense and you need those people with the advent of the spread offense. You need guys that can pay multiple positions and he will give them some flexibility on their defense.”
Whitehaven High School is in Memphis, about a 5-1/2 hour drive from Knoxville. Pruitt and his staff have made recruiting in that area one of their top priorities. In this case, having someone on the staff with strong local connections was a boost to the recruiting process.
“A lot of the people on his (Pruitt’s) staff I have met in different stops and different locations that they have been,” Saulsberry said. “David Johnson (Tennessee running backs coach), who is the primary recruiter in Memphis actually was coaching at the University of Memphis prior to going to Tennessee, so he is familiar. I have known him even as a high school coach back in New Orleans when we were doing the camp circuit together. We have a good relationship. So that was very beneficial that Tennessee has Coach Johnson on the staff.”
Eason, French and McDonald are set to arrive on the UT campus in June.
Cover photo via Twitter @More_Issues