No coach likes to start off a summer week with news of a de-commitment and a top prospect deciding to attend another school. Tennessee Football just had to face as much. However, all is not lost. In fact, nothing much has changed.
Let’s start with the de-commitment. The Vols lost out on J.J. Harrell, the receiver who committed in February before taking an official visit to Knoxville. Harrell was no slouch. The 6-foot, 187-pound prospect was rated as the No. 143 prospect in the nation and the 20th best receiver overall. It looks like the four-star prospect will end up at Ole Miss. That would make sense considering Harrell is ranked as the third-best prospect in Mississippi.
Losing Harrell was certainly a big deal. However, he can be replaced. The Vols are already in the hunt for several top receiver prospects, most notably five-star Georgia prospect Mike Matthews. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound target out of Parkview High School in Lilburn, Ga., also considering Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Southern California. However, receiver can wait.
The more impactful recruiting news this week came from Georgia when linebacker Sammy Brown committed to Clemson. Brown was a missed opportunity that the Vols shouldn’t give up hope on.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound prospect from Jefferson (Ga.) High School is highly rated and was very available. Brown is a five-star prospect who is considered the fifth overall prospect in the nation, the top linebacker in the nation and the top prospect in the state of Georgia, yet he’s headed to Clemson in order to play sooner. Kudos to the Tigers. Too bad for the Vols.
Brown is the exact kind of prospect that could change things longterm for the Vols when they recruit within Georgia’s state borders. If Tennessee Football can land a prospect like Brown, as Clemson did, there could soon be at least a trickle of top prospects that consider Tennessee a bit more than they did before. That’s just natural – and was evident – during the Vols’ glory days.
Tennessee wouldn’t have won a national championship in 1998 without a strong recruiting presence in Georgia in the mid-1990s. Players like strong safety Fred White, offensive lineman Cosey Coleman, running back Jamal Lewis and free safety Deon Grant were all Georgia prospects that signed with UT and helped the Vols to a 13-0 national championship season in 1998. Those are the type of prospects that Tennessee needs to land in order to ratchet up its talent level without having to depend on the transfer portal every season.
There’s no question that the Vols would rather see Brown go to Clemson than stay within the SEC. However, Tennessee’s coaches would rather see him don Tennessee orange than Clemson’s colors. In fact, landing Brown would be much bigger than Harrell’s presence could have ever been. Why? There are a number of reasons.
First, the Vols aren’t likely going to hurt for receivers as long as Josh Heupel is Tennessee’s head coach. Second, Brown would be the kind of prospect that would legitimize Tennessee’s defense as one that could dominate opposing offenses and produce top-flight, NFL talent. So far, the Vols aren’t there yet. Lastly, there’s that whole pipeline aspect that was just discussed.
Did Tennessee’s recruiting class change significantly with the recent developments with Harrell and Brown? Not really. Harrell’s commitment was already in question and the Vols weren’t expected to land Brown. Still, was missing out on Brown a missed opportunity? Absolutely – and it was far more meaningful than losing out on Harrell.
Tennessee Football and Clemson will be recruiting the same athletes for the foreseeable future. Clemson has had the upper hand. It’s time for the Vols to change the trend, which has been active for over a decade. Winning a battle in Georgia against the Tigers would have been a great boost. In other words, don’t give up on Brown just yet, and keep looking for the next elite prospect that is ready to bolt the Peach State.