KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)-- national Signing day 2019 Part-2 has come and gone. The Tennessee football program ends up with 23 signees and a top 12 national ranking according to Rivals after welcoming to the program 5-Star offensive tackle Darnell Wright out of Huntington, West Virginia and 4-Star outside linebacker Henry To'oto'o our of Concord, CA. Head coach Jeremy Pruitt spoke with media after securing the signatures of both Wright and To'oto'o:
"Since we talked about recruiting the last time in December, we have added Quavaris Crouch, an outstanding athlete who can play either side of the ball. He's a very good student, a good competitor. His high school team won the state championship his junior year. Unfortunately, he got injured this past year and didn't get to participate in very many games, but we're excited we have him. Eric Gray is another young man that has been a part of several state championship teams. He won Mr. Football a couple of times. Again, another very good student. Both of these guys are mid-year, they've been here. They've been working. We're excited to have them. We also added Aubrey Solomon, a transfer from Michigan. This young man we had recruited coming out of high school. We knew his family. Sometimes, in this day and time, things don't work out. We had previous relationships. We're very fortunate to get him and we're excited about having him. Deangelo Gibbs is another young man that we recruited coming out of high school. He's a guy that could really play either side of the ball, so we'll see where he plays once he gets here. We're glad we have him.
"We got Darnell Wright today. Darnell is a guy that is a big powerful man that can play any of the five spots on the offensive line. He looks like he probably weighs 310 (pounds), but he actually weights 335, so he holds it very well. Another good student, and a guy that won a state championship as a junior.
"When you look at this class, I think we signed guys that are used to having success. Some big men. Guys that are good with the ball in their hand. I think they are going to add depth of our team and create competition. I think it capped off a class that, if you look at it starting back in December, guys that are really good students with good characters and are used to winning. Leaders of their football teams. Captains of their football teams. I think it is a great class to lay the foundation for what we want to achieve here."
On what this class says about the state of the program:
"To have a good recruiting class, it first starts with tradition. You have to have tradition that people recognize the brand. The Power T is recognized across the country. You have to have facilities, which we have great facilities. You have to have administration that is behind what you are trying to get done. I think you have to have success in all sports. One of the big selling points that has helped us in recruiting has been our men's basketball team. Everywhere we go, people want to talk about our men's basketball program. I think that's a great thing, putting Tennessee on the map. Again, it's building the brand.
“It takes good coaches, it takes everybody in the coaching staff. Sometimes in recruiting, guys get singled out. Whether it is the head coach or position coach – it takes everybody involved. From academic support, to nutrition, to the weight room, graduate assistants, quality control. People in the recruiting office. Everybody has to be willing to be bought in to recruit. Guys come to school to get an education first and foremost. It's an opportunity to build a brand, to make connections that last a lifetime. The one thing about the University of Tennessee is that everybody is selling the university. Everybody is committed in the recruiting effort. It takes everybody. It takes a great fanbase. The passion of the fanbase, when you walk out here for the Vol Walk and there is somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 folks out there. It's a sight to see. A stadium that seats 102,000. The way we travel. All of these things go in to the opportunity to recruit student-athletes that want to win a championship at Tennessee."
On the impact of the offensive line signees:
“Well we signed five offensive linemen. Wanya Morris, Darnell Wright, Chris Akporoghene, Jackson Lampley and Melvin McBride. When you look at these guys, they are all big men that are athletic. They can bend and they can slide their feet. They play the right way. They are all good students and are coming out of winning programs. It’s a position that we need some depth and competition in, but when you look at our football team, that is probably everywhere. There is probably not one position where you can say that we have enough guys. I think with this class, we have hit some needs and we have more depth. There will be more competition so that will make everyone better.”
On the staff recruiting Darnell Wright and Brian Niedermeyer’s impact on the recruiting trail:
“I think with every guy we recruit; we have to build relationships. If you have taken your son to a school and dropped him off, you have a feeling of what I am talking about. You are giving probably your most prized possession to someone else for the next four years. They aren’t going to be under your roof anymore. A lot of our guys on staff have kids that are in college and we understand what that is all about. When you look at everyone involved in our program, they all get it and understand it. They are willing to go the extra mile to build relationships where people want to come here. I think that it’s obvious with anything in life. If you enjoy the people that you are around and build trust with the people you are associated with, it gives a little more comfort dropping them off.”
On how the SEC dominates on the recruiting trail:
“In this part of the country, football is very important. You can get on the road on Saturday and start riding in the southeast and there are people playing football at all of the fields. Friday nights, you turn on the high school tapes and you see the fanbases and their passion and the pride of the communities that they are from. I think that has something to do with it.”
On the transfers and whether they will be sitting out a year:
“I think today should be more focused on recruiting and we will worry about that when the time comes.”
On how different it is to only wait on a handful of guys to sign versus 25-plus:
“I think the recruiting calendar has changed a lot of things. I think its moved the timetable up. I think probably in the SEC, somewhere between 77 and 85 percent of the guys were signed in the Early Signing Period. It reduces the numbers, and you start recruiting ahead and planning ahead, but for a day like today I think it is important how you finish a class. You have to hit your number, and I think we were able to do that. I am excited about the guys we have coming. I am excited about today and looking forward to the next class.”
On how he plans to construct the coaching staff after changes:
“We really have not sat down and gone over that. We got everybody in here and started working on recruiting. We have not divvied up areas. The first thing we wanted to do was to finish up this recruiting class. We will probably take a weekend off and start on Monday with figuring it out from there.”
On how much peer-recruiting helped this recruiting class:
“I think our current players have really done a fantastic job in this cycle. They are only going to continue to get better, and I think a lot of that goes with relationships. I think if you look at when guys come on campus, the great players want to play with great teams and other great players. I think the coaching staff and the things I have named have a lot to do with it, but your best recruiters are your current players and I think our guys have done a really good job this cycle.”
On adding depth at offensive line:
“I think depth is a big thing and it is for every position on our team. We need competition and we have hit a lot of guys in the spots that we need. We need more depth. We need another really good recruiting class this next year. I think with the offensive line position, first of all if you do not have big men, you cannot just go and pick them off the street, so you better have some. You need to be able to practice, which is a thing we ran into last spring when we moved some defensive linemen to offensive linemen, because if you don’t have five offensive linemen it’s hard to get a linebacker, defensive back or a quarterback ready. I think we got depth now and our numbers are getting closer to what they should be for that position. That should help us develop our football team moving forward.”
On the number of running backs on the roster after National Signing Day:
“We have guys from last year coming back with Ty, Tim, and Jeremy Banks. We added Eric Gray and at the end of the year we moved Carlin to the running back position. I think we are getting closer to getting the right number at that spot.”
On the impact of recruits:
“The big thing in recruiting is that you do the best you can to find out the information. You have to trust your evaluations, and it helps if you can see them in person. It’s hard to predict how a 17 or 18-year old is going to be when he is 21 or 22. You do the best you can in doing that. What looks good today might not be so good in a couple of years and what doesn’t look good today, might be the best thing in a couple of years. That’s everywhere across the country. I think our staff has done a good job evaluating these guys. The guys that are here right now have been working hard in the weight room, which is no surprise to me, but that is the expectation here. Instead of guys having to bring them along, they have jumped in and been equal to.”
On evaluating versatile players:
“If you are going to sign an offensive lineman, it helps if he can play all five spots. If you are going to sign a running back, it might help if he has the size to play linebacker or vice versa. If you were signing a linebacker, I would rather sign a guy that can play all four positions. I think that it brings value to him and value to the team for the versatility there. Most of the guys that are used to handling the ball in high school, whether they were on offense or defense usually have good ball skills. The guys that pick off a lot of passes on Friday nights pick off a lot on Saturday. If they pick the ball off on Saturday then they pick them off on Sunday. I have never seen a defensive back that didn’t pick passes off on Friday all the sudden pick them off on Sunday.”