UT recruiting: We’ll find out later

Marvin Westwestwords

We’ll find out later, in a couple of years, what Jeremy Pruitt found at the end of his first recruiting rainbow. Unless a miracle happens, it won’t be a pot of gold.

The second half of the great talent roundup is Wednesday. The Vols were a so-so success in early signings. Nothing more could have logically been expected. Coaching changes disrupt recruiting routines. Prospects comfortable with previous coaches are often lost.

Other prospects loosely connected to coaches on the move may follow them for a visit, sometimes just to make comparisons. Others, with no previous interest in Tennessee, may suddenly see what they think is light at the end of the tunnel.

The net result is usually a short-term setback which is why coaches put so much emphasis on long-term relationships.

If you insist on making a preliminary assessment of this class, here are checkpoints:

Anything better than 15th in national ranking would be very good for the Vols.

Check to see where two linebackers go. Tennessee is trying to flip Quay Walker and keep JJ Peterson from being flipped.

No matter how far ahead Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Florida finish, Tennessee will celebrate. You can call the Wednesday evening pep rally at the Tennessee Theater a sellout even though seats were free for the asking.

Cheerleaders will cheer. Coach Pruitt will offer a limited overview and congratulate his staff for great effort under difficult circumstances. Phillip Fulmer will again say how pleased he is with his selection of Pruitt.

The UT recruiting party will resume with a Thursday luncheon in Nashville. It is a genuine sellout. Money was involved. The show goes to the Memphis for Thursday evening. Tickets and barbecue are available.

Pruitt and assistants get a pass on this class because of the late start. Next year and thereafter, there will be no acceptable excuses. Resources are available. The state is not at the top of the supply chain (Texas, Florida, California, Georgia and Ohio) but it is improving rapidly.

The orange creed is go where they are and bring back some. UT learned long ago to recruit nationally. The 1951 national championship team featured two starters from Tennessee, five from Pennsylvania and other imports from less likely places, even Rhode Island.

Thirteen states were represented on the 22-man starting lineup. Defensive ends Mack Franklin (Madisonville) and Doug Atkins (Humboldt) were native sons. Tennessee found offensive end John Davis in Bogata, Texas, and defensive guard Francis Holohan in residence just above Niagara Falls.

National recruiting is labor intensive and expensive. Tennessee routinely spends more on the process than any other college. Ten years ago, the outlay exceeded $2 million. Some gasped. Smart athletic directors ask how much does it take.

Football funds university athletics. Recruiting is the life blood of football success. Of course, there are other aspects. Butch reminded us.

In the decades since recruiting became a public spectacle, Tennessee has had somewhere near equal numbers of hits and misses, enough to convince all concerned that evaluation of high school players is a weird guess instead of a precise science.

Coaches measure height, weight, speed and reactions. Assessment of attitudes, effort and courage under duress are often gambles. High school coaches tend to oversell. Parents and homes provide clues but no guarantees. Results are often shocking.

Some recruits are surprisingly mature, men among boys. Others develop later and cause coaches to think they have done one heck of a job.

Even the ultimate prep star may turn into a hit or a miss. Peyton Manning met projections precisely. At 18, he was very smart, a pro-style passer, a natural leader. At 18, the scouting report said he wasn’t much of a runner. He still wasn’t at 40.

Bryce Brown came out of Wichita as the No. 1 high school talent in the country. He totaled 460 yards as a Tennessee running back.

He was unhappy 30 minutes after arrival. Before departure, he caused considerable consternation. He sued to be released from his scholarship. He said missing his high school graduation and senior trip “had a severe emotional impact.”

He said he quickly realized that he did not fit in.

“My teammates were involved in a range of activities that I was not comfortable being around.”

Brown’s father gave examples. He alleged that Bryce, on an elevator ride, overheard three Vols plotting robbery of a convenience store.

Many Volunteers – Bob Johnson, Richmond Flowers, Heath Shuler and Eric Berry come immediately to mind – produced dramatic results on football fields and elsewhere generated recognition for the school. There is a Tennessee crowd in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Hundreds played well. Hundreds mostly practiced and watched. Others became busts, disappointments or embarrassments. Some killed people in alcohol accidents. At least one ex-Vol is in prison.

Please repeat after me: Recruiting is a crapshoot. For lack of real information, recruiters are forced to guess and hope. They win some and lose some. Later is the correct time to assess the Pruitt beginning, even if Wednesday is exciting.

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

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