There is no secret how important the 2019 recruiting class is to Jeremy Pruitt and the Tennessee Volunteers. In multiple interviews this season, Pruitt referenced needing to get his own guys into the program before they could compete at the level they wanted. While Pruitt and Company recruited far better than anticipated during their brief time with the Vols in the 2018 cycle, the combination of a 4-8 season and the handicaps resulting from an odyssey of a coaching search clearly hampered them. The 2019 class represents Jeremy Pruitt’s first class at Tennessee in which he and his staff have had a full year to assemble the players they want. Due to the talent of these players and the emphasis Pruitt has placed on wanting to get his own players into the program, expect to see the young men from this class on the field early and often. Here's an idea of what to expect on the field through Spring Ball and into the fall. We continue our Player Profile series by looking at Chris Akporoghene out of Bradenton, Florida. Chris was previously a Tennessee native from here in Seymour, Tennessee.
Anyone that watched the 2018 version of the Tennessee Volunteers knows that the play of the offensive line was the biggest issue by far that the team had to address. Statistically, Tennessee’s line last season was abysmal. There was no metric utilized to measure the efficacy of an offensive line group that was kind to Tennessee in 2018. They allowed Jarret Guarantano to take massive hit after massive hit, and on the occasions Guarantano was knocked from games, Keller Chryst was subjected to similar hits. Regardless of who the signal caller was for the Vols, he was often being hit before he could plant to throw on three step drops. The running game wasn’t really any better, with the Vols ranking near the top of the nation in the percentage of called runs that resulted in lost yardage. Worryingly, backs like Ty Chandler, Tim Jordan, and Jeremy Banks turned many runs into positive gains, or at least no gain, when being hit deep in the backfield. The struggles of this group meant that Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have prioritized offensive linemen in the 2019 recruiting class, and not just any linemen, they want their kind of guys. Pruitt and Offensive Line Coach Will Friend are looking for linemen that have size and strength, athleticism, versatility, and a nasty streak to use it. Though it has taken him a long, winding road to arrive at Tennessee, Will Friend will be excited to work with Chris Akporoghene, most lately of IMG Academy, because of the tools he has.
Chris Akporoghene started his high school football career in Seymour, Tennessee, after moving here from Nigeria. Chris had never played football before he moved to the United States. Chris was very athletic for a teenager his size and it did not take long for top high school programs to take notice of Chris and his potential. After just two years of picking up a football, Chris decided to transfer to one of the top high school programs in the country, IMG Academy in Florida. After attending a Vols camp back on June 12, 2018, the Vols pulled the trigger and offered Chris on the first day. The Vols were intrigued by his size, athleticism, and motor. It took less than a month for Chris to decide to commit to the Vols and come back home from where it all started for him.
On the field, Akporoghene moves very well at his size. Even at six foot five and two hundred ninety-five pounds, Akporoghene looks a bit lean. That isn’t to say he lacks size, because if that were lacking, from what we have seen of Jeremy Pruitt, he wouldn’t have been offered. It is more that he has a big frame with long arms that should be able to carry more weight and muscle without negatively impacting his athleticism and movement. Akporoghene shows good lateral movement and quickness, which allows him to play comfortably in space on the edge of the line. Akporoghene is raw, and even at a high school the caliber of IMG, he was able to succeed at times based solely on his talent and size. If he wants to play in the SEC, he will have to improve his technique. He has solid use of his hands, and though he has good lateral movement, his footwork, particularly in run blocking, does need some improvement. Much like Melvin McBride, a fellow incoming freshman offensive lineman, Akporoghene has all of the physical tools that could be desired by a coach for an offensive linemen but requires coaching on how to use those tools at the SEC level due to only playing football for a few years. As with McBride, Akporoghene is going to be an opportunity for Will Friend to earn his salary and reputation as an elite line coach in how he develops the talented young man.
Chris is coming in as an early enrollee and has already benefited from the weight room, as he loves to put in extra reps. The focus under Strength Coach Fitzgerald will be to pack muscle onto Chris’s long frame. While Chris is very raw and had only been playing football for three years, don’t be fooled by his inexperience. Coach Will Friend will have all of spring and fall to try to help get Chris up to speed. Chris may not come in as a starter on day one, but after watching his film and seeing his character he will leave UT as a full-time starter. Chris is everything Coach Pruitt preaches about when it comes to toughness, hard worker, and being a competitor.
The offensive line was a major recruiting point during this cycle, and it is sometimes easy to overlook a player that has only three stars according to most major recruiting pages, though Rivals did rate Akporoghene as a four-star prospect. Chris is one of the exceptions to this, as he is willing and dedicated to be the best. With all the competition and opportunities at playing time coming in on the offensive line, Chris may have a shot to see the field early as a right guard. Another vital role that Akporoghene will be able to fill is providing depth at offensive tackle, his more natural position as his career progresses. While fellow freshmen Wanya Morris and Darnell Wright look to likely serve as starters, Akporoghene will compete to be the primary, reserve tackle, and will likely playing meaningful snaps at that position in the rotation even without injury to the starters. Fans can expect Chris to have a long and bright career here as a Tennessee Volunteer.