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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, February 14, 2020

Vols’ No. 10 recruiting class still seventh-best in SEC




Emblematic of their 2019 season, the Tennessee Vols made a strong closing run to complete their 2020 recruiting class.

The Vols put the finishing touches on the highly ranked group last week during National Signing Day by securing four-star wide receiver Malachi Wideman and three-star athlete Damarcus Beckwith.

Both players will have the opportunity to play football and basketball for Tennessee once they arrive on campus.

Wideman and Beckwith pushed Tennessee’s 23-member class to No. 10 in the country, according to the composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports. Displaying the conference’s strength, that still put the Vols seventh overall among SEC programs and third in the SEC East.

“I think recruiting has a little bit of momentum to it,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt says. “When you get guys that start committing to a certain school, guys want to be a part of that. Right now, we won six straight games and seven out of our last eight. That created some momentum on the field and some momentum in December.”

National Signing Day is not nearly as frenetic as it used to be. The early signing date in December has shifted most of the action to before the holidays, with programs securing nearly all their recruits in that window.

But the Vols still had a few top targets they were hoping to add, and they achieved many of their goals.

Wideman, a Florida native, flipped his longtime verbal commitment from Florida State and signed with Tennessee. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound high school All-American caught 65 passes for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as a senior at Venice High. He also won the 2019 City of the Palms Classic Dunk contest.

“The guy is an unbelievable athlete,” Pruitt says. “I had the opportunity to watch him play a basketball game and you can just see the athleticism all over the basketball court.

“When you watch him on the football field, his catch radius, his instincts to play the position, his ability to high point the football, his toughness and the fact that he’s a very fluid athlete means that he has a very high ceiling, and we’re really excited to have him as a part of our program.”

Beckwith played on both sides of the ball at Florence High in Alabama while also starring on the basketball and track and field teams.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound first-team all-state honoree finished last season with 1,055 rushing yards, 589 passing yards, 526 receiving yards and 27 total touchdowns.

“He’s one of these guys that in high school football had the ball in his hands a lot,’’ Pruitt points out. “He played wildcat quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety and some linebacker.

“He’s a guy that projects to play a number of positions, but when you watch him play, where he’s the most dynamic is when the ball is in his hands. That’s what we’re going to do with him when he gets here is we’re going to give him the opportunity to put the ball in his hands.”

Sharing athletes with other sports at UT is something Pruitt doesn’t mind doing if it means they are more attracted to the school.

Kenney Solomon is running track this spring for the Vols, and Beckwith and Wideman will be allowed to hit the hardwood.

“They are on football scholarships, so it starts there, but you lay out a plan that you feel like they can have success,” Pruitt says. “Whether it’s on the football field, the track or the baseball diamond or the basketball court, but at the same time being able to handle being a student at the same time.”

Beckwith and Wideman spent time with UT basketball coach Rick Barnes and the team during their official visits for football. Barnes says he is open to having them join the Vols once football season ends, and understands football will be their first priority.

“I’m just excited they’re here,’’ Barnes says. “As they get here, they get settled in, it will be their call. Jeremy and I have talked about it, and we both know it will be their call, what they think once they go through it, live it and see if they can do it.”

Aside from completing their recruiting class, the Vols announced some staff changes. Pruitt hired former UT running back Jay Graham as UT’s new running backs coach and promoted Joe Osovet to tight ends coach.

Brian Niedermeyer has moved to the defensive side of the ball, going from coaching tight ends to coaching inside linebackers.

Graham replaces David Johnson, who left for Florida State. He arrives in Knoxville after spending the last two seasons as co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Texas A&M

Graham previously coached UT’s running backs in 2012, and was on the same Florida State staff as Pruitt when the Seminoles won the national title in 2013.

“He is one of the best assistant coaches in the country, and his track record for developing running backs speaks for itself, as you can see several of the young men he has coached playing on Sundays,” Pruitt adds.

“He’s the total package as a coach with his experience playing in the NFL and his years coaching in the SEC and ACC. He has tremendous work ethic and an impressive ability to connect with young people.”

Given the good vibes generated from their late-season run and recruiting success, athletics director Phillip Fulmer  had a reason to be extra bullish on UT’s future.

He provided a closing salvo during Tennessee’s Signing Day celebration event in Knoxville that generated a few headlines.

“The Vols are back,” Fulmer said. “And before long, we’ll be taking a bite out of everybody we play’s ass.”