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VOL. 43 | NO. 52 | Friday, December 27, 2019

Pruitt finds recruiting success in backyard

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Keshawn Lawrence of Ensworth High School was the No. 2-ranked prospect in the state.

-- Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

Securing the borders is a common recruiting goal among college athletic programs as coaches don’t want to let the best players from their state escape to other schools.

The Tennessee football program kept some talented recruits home in its 2020 class.

Ten of the 21 players who signed with the Vols last week were in-state products.

Four-star defensive back Keshawn Lawrence of Ensworth School in Nashville, a top 100 national prospect, headlined an in-state group that included five other four-star players:

• Defensive end/linebacker Tyler Baron

• Defensive lineman Omari Thomas

• Linebacker Bryan Eason

• Offensive lineman Cooper Mays

• Linebacker Martavius French.

“I believe these 10 guys from this state have a lot of pride in the University of Tennessee. They want to represent their home state,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt says. “They have goals for how they want their next four years to turn out. They’ve really taken it upon themselves to recruit each other and recruit other guys out there.”

The Vols rode the momentum from their regular season-ending five-game winning streak to help close strong in recruiting.

Tennessee’s class was ranked in the Top 20 by most recruiting services (No. 11 by Rivals, No. 15 by 247Sports and No. 18 by ESPN) the morning following the opening of the early signing period.

Nine players in the class ranked in the top 15 in their respective states, and eight are ranked in the top 10 in their positions.

The Vols had some late signing decisions by players go their way last week, including four-star defensive end Morven Joseph choosing the Vols over Florida and Florida State, quarterback Jimmy Holiday flipping from Texas Christian to Tennessee and running back/linebacker Len’Neth Whitehead, defensive tackle Reginald Perry and Baron all picking the Vols.

Holiday gave the Vols two quarterbacks in the class, joining four-star Harrison Bailey of Georgia.

“Probably, the two guys couldn’t really be any more different when you look at them as football players,” Pruitt explains.

“Harrison’s a big guy that has a live arm. He really does a lot of things from within the pocket. He actually led his team to a state championship. He’s a guy that really has anticipation throwing the football. He’s a great leader, captain of his football team. Jimmy Holiday’s a guy that’s a phenomenal athlete.”

Although some programs lure players to school with mixed messages about their roles, Pruitt says he doesn’t buy into that philosophy.

“When we recruit our guys, we are going to recruit them for a certain position. All these guys know exactly what they want to play, and we are going to let them play exactly what they want to play,” Pruitt adds. “It doesn’t do us any good to recruit somebody, tell them one thing and play them at another position.”

Unlike last year when Pruitt had to scramble to complete the recruiting class in his first season as a head coach, the Tennessee staff had more time to develop relationships with recruits and evaluate how they would fit into the program.

The Vols will try to put the finishing touches on the 2020 class in February when the original signing day arrives. But the staff is already excited about the start, and grateful to the recruits who stuck by the program through the ups and downs of the past few months.

“I believe in the guys in this class that have been committed back out before the season started. They knew they wanted to come to Tennessee,” Pruitt says. “They believed in the direction we were heading. They believe in our coaching staff, our vision, and they believed in the players that were here. They want to be good players. We got a chance to do something special here.”

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