Difference of opinion

Marvin WestFeature, westwords

What we have here is a difference of opinion.

Recruiting evaluators, analysts and sportswriters, after countless hours of personal observation, film study and input from friends and neighbors, have determined that the state of Tennessee is now loaded with outstanding high school football players.

We have supposedly evolved into a virtual hotbed of college prospects. We are the “in” place and famous coaches are rushing here to pick the fruit.

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt is somewhat less impressed with this in-state class. He’s shown limited interest in several top seniors. Only one, four-star offensive tackle Jackson Lampley of Nashville, son of a former Volunteer, is so far committed to Tennessee.

Pruitt wants his future teams to look more like Alabama and less like Sewanee. Generally speaking, he thinks bigger, stronger players are less likely to suffer injuries and more likely to win games. He and associates are diligently searching for such projections. Their guideline is simple: What is more important than where.

Pruitt, highly regarded as a recruiter, has promised to do well in this race to 2019. Back in February, he said he understood fans’ disappointment in his first rushed roundup (not all that impressive, rated No. 20 in the country, behind all the big boys in the Southeastern Conference).

Some interpreted his next class as No. 1-to-be. His exact words were “We will be up there at the very top.”

His top and your top might be different. Pruitt said assigned stars and rankings by recruiting services don’t matter much to him and his staff.

“We don’t need someone out there that runs the mail to tell us what a good football player is – these guys know what they are looking for in a football player.”

If Tennessee fans are a wee bit apprehensive, they are justified. Jeremy wasn’t here but Butch was when Clemson got away with top talent Tee Higgins from Oak Ridge and Amari Rodgers from Knoxville Catholic.

Pruitt didn’t arrive in time to do much about prize Vol legacy Cade Mays. He thumbed his nose at Tennessee, sang an ugly song and marched down to Georgia.

It has been said that if the Vols lose a coveted prospect close to home, they must steal a comparable out-of-state player to balance the scales. It seems logical that recruiting from a distance is more difficult than next door. If there is a great player in state, UT should be the opening favorite to sign him.

That leads to the obvious question – who are the great prep players? That leads to another difference of opinion. Evaluations vary.

Cornerback Maurice Hampton of Memphis is committed to LSU. Bill Norton, 6-6 and 275, defensive end from Memphis, is pledged to Georgia. All-purpose back Eric Gray of Memphis is going to Michigan. Wide receiver Lance Wilhoite of Nashville says he has selected Oregon.

Joe Anderson, defensive end, 6-4 and 264, of Murfreesboro is headed for South Carolina. Defensive end Ani Izuchukwu, Davidson Academy in Nashville, has picked Mississippi State. Wide receiver T.J. Sheffield of Thompson’s Station answered the call from Notre Dame. Corner Woodi Washington of Murfreesboro says it will be Oklahoma for him.

The list of raiders goes on – Nebraska, Indiana, Georgia Tech, Purdue, Virginia.

Signing date is far away. Perhaps Pruitt will change his mind about some in-state prospects. Perhaps they will change their mind about what is best for them.

Without debate, our state is growing and, indeed, has more high school football talent than in decades past. Could be quality is not yet over the top. Maybe the correct summation is good instead of great. If Pruitt is right, no problem.

The precise answer is two or three years away. Right now, there is a difference of opinion.

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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