The Vols’ loss to South Carolina just keeps hurting. Tennessee football felt the impact in recruiting again, and it might not end anytime soon.
Four-star offensive lineman Kam Pringle from Woodland High School in Dorchester, S.C., committed to the Gamecocks on Sunday over Tennessee, Clemson and a host of other schools. It’s not likely a coincidence that South Carolina won the Pringle battle after closing out the regular season by beating both the Vols and Tigers, who were rated in the top 10 when they met.
Tennessee and Clemson have no one to blame but themselves if South Carolina, as the state school, is able to fend off other recruiters. The Gamecocks were teetering on the verge of obscurity before they pulled off two of the biggest upsets in school history in back-to-back games. The problem is it might not be over for the Vols.
Tennessee once held a commitment from four-star receiver Mazeo Bennett, who is from Greenville (S.C.) High School. He de-committed in December. Now, most expect him to commit to the Gamecocks. He de-committed from Tennessee just a couple of weeks after the Vols lost to South Carolina. Coincidence? Doubtful.
Historically, Tennessee football has been at its best when it has recruited well in South Carolina. Based on the Orange Bowl and where the Vols and Clemson seem to be trending, one has to wonder if South Carolina is the more difficult foe to topple in the Palmetto State. Clemson has not had recent success in South Carolina. South Carolina has basically been poached by every big-time program in the nation for the past couple of years. The Vols were trying to join the club, which includes Ohio State, Southern California, Alabama and Georgia. Those are just some of the schools who have secured signees from underneath the Gamecocks’ beaks.
Despite what one may think of South Carolina coach Shane Beamer, who many in college football think is in over his head and surrounded with subpar assistants, he’ll now be a significant factor in recruiting for the time being. He’s young, energetic and his program seems to be on the rise after a strong finish to the 2022 season. The Vols could have – and should have – stamped that fire out before it got started.
If you’re looking for a silver lining in the Pringle commitment, here are two:
1. Pringle is a 2024 prospect, so he has time to see South Carolina play this season and change his mind.
2. Transfer rules allow a player to bolt if he sees things aren’t going well at the first school he chose.
The latter is a new aspect of recruiting that no one has a long enough sample size to see what impact it might have on a high school prospect’s decision. Could in-state prospects be willing to give an iffy program a try because it’s close to home and their family may be draped in school gear? Then, if things don’t go well, that prospect could bolt for a more prominent school.
Early commitments have always been uncertain. Nowadays, even signing an NIL contract is still a bit sketchy considering a player can transfer at the drop of a hat. In fact, is there even a purpose of having NIL contracts any longer?
So, the good news for Tennessee football is that if it continues to trend upwards and South Carolina stumbles, the Vols will have another shot at some of prospects they missed out on when they recruited them out of high school.
It’s worth noting that South Carolina has commitments from four of the top seven prospects within its state borders. That’s impressive considering that South Carolina is widely thought of as a middle-of-the-pack program in the SEC. South Carolina certainly isn’t a middle of the pack program in recruiting nowadays. Tennessee and Clemson have no other school to blame but themselves for that.