This is a busy moment regarding all things for Tennessee Athletics. The men’s basketball team is preparing for a Top Ten showdown against the number one team in the nation, Gonzaga, on Saturday. The Lady Vols are ranked back inside the Top Ten again with some stiff tests looming. Though their season is over, the football team is still making news with recruiting season in full swing, the early signing day looming, and something about needing to hire an offensive coordinator. Those football stories have all been entwined with one another on various levels right now. It is evident to those that follow the sport that Jeremy Pruitt has a massive overhaul of this program on his hands, a task made all the more stark thanks to the Vols’ thumping at the hands of Vanderbilt to end the season, ensuring that Tennessee would miss post season play for the second straight year. Pruitt has work to do to get Tennessee back to prominence, and that work starts on the recruiting trail.
Jeremy Pruitt has mentioned on multiple occasions this season that he needs to get, “His guys,” or, “Guys that will do things the right way,” infused into the program in order to turn things in Knoxville around. Knowing this, fans have taken comfort in Pruitt, and most of his staff for that matter, having reputations as excellent recruiters. This 2019 recruiting class is stacking up to be one of the most important at Tennessee in recent memory. The Vols are strong contenders for some of the biggest names in the country right now and filling out an already strong class with those players could push Tennessee into a Top Five class this cycle. That infusion of talent and Pruitt guys would be a boon in Knoxville, however, this class is going to have huge sway over the type of classes Pruitt and Company can expect going forward. The importance of this class, as well as the much-agonized Offensive Coordinator hire, can have their importance with a look ahead in recruiting, to the 2022 class specifically.
Terian Williams II is currently rated by several recruiting services as the number one dual threat quarterback in the 2022 class. Recruiting and rating of quarterbacks tends to be a bit different than most other positions, with elite talent often rated and identified earlier than many other positions. Williams II is already rated as a four-star quarterback and holds multiple SEC offers, the first of which he received from the Tennessee Volunteers. For his age, Williams II already displays a very strong arm, a smooth delivery, and solid footwork. He is far from a finished product at this point in his career and development, but the talent is clear to see. When Williams II pulls the ball down to scramble, he shows elusiveness and even break away speed. That combination of tools is seldom available to a quarterback, even more seldom to one so young. As William II continues his progression as a quarterback, with the weapons already present in his game, he stands to remain as the number one player at his position in the class, a player every major college football program covets.
A coach noted for having an eye for talent, it is easy to see why Pruitt would want to be the first SEC school to extend an offer to Williams II, and to get an early jump on the young man’s recruitment. Not only has Pruitt already extended an offer to Williams II, he has had the young man on campus already. It seems that game day on Rocky Top made an impression on Williams II. When asked what stood out to him the most, Williams II answered, “The passionate fanbase, the game day atmosphere, and the state-of-the-art facilities all stood out to me.”
That the Volunteer fans are passionate and that Neyland Stadium, packed, can make an impression is something anyone to ever visit for a game can attest to. That Tennessee has some of the finest facilities in the nation for their players is also well known. Other schools can boast passionate fan bases and impressive game day atmospheres, but the combination that Knoxville can offer in the late fall is one of the most impressive in all of sports. Still, there is more to recruiting a player than game days or the facilities where they will work out.
Upon his arrival in Knoxville, Pruitt assembled a staff full of some of the most respected recruiters in all of college football. Their acumen on the field and recruiting trail were paramount traits to Pruitt, and it was interesting to hear what Terian thought of his interaction with them. Williams II was asked which coach had made the biggest impression on him and why thus far during his contact with the Vols. He responded that, “Coach [Chris] Rumph is my recruiter, and has made the biggest impression. He is a very intense, no nonsense kind of coach. He tells you the truth, what he expects of you, and what you can expect of him. That is my kind of coach.”
That Williams II mentions honesty when talking about a Tennessee coach under Pruitt is becoming something to expect. Multiple recruits along the trail this season have talked about how honest each member of this staff, including Pruitt, has been in letting them know what the expectations were from the staff. That honesty appears to be making an impact with some of the elite targets Tennessee has on the board. It appears that these talented players appreciate a staff sitting down and shooting them straight on where both sides are and what is to be anticipated. The no nonsense has also been echoed by several recruits since Pruitt took over in Knoxville, and the commitment to getting back to football first appears to resonate with the young men being recruited to don the Orange and White.
While on his visit to Tennessee, Williams II had a meeting and photo with a Tennessee staff member that may highlight why some things must turn around sooner rather than later in Knoxville. Terian was approached by someone that he, “Knew was important,” at Tennessee. He shook the man’s hand, introduced himself, and the two took a picture together. Williams II didn’t know to whom he had spoken until his Uncle pulled him off the side. Terian explained that, “I didn’t know he was the athletic director when I first saw him. Then my Uncle explained that he was a former Head Coach at Tennessee, had won a National Championship there, had coached Peyton Manning, and had also played at Tennessee. I quickly realized that he is ‘Mister Tennessee Football’.”
The man that Terian had met was none other than Athletic Director Phillip Fulmer. Phil Fulmer, a coach that was at one point possibly more feared by other coaches on the recruiting trail than he was on the field. A man that could enter a recruit’s home, particularly offensive lineman, and seemingly, like an Orange-Clad Vito Corleone, make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Fulmer was a coach that at times appeared to be able to go anywhere in the country and pull in the recruits he wanted to be Vols. The man that is a walking Tennessee legend, a National Championship winning coach, and Mr. Tennessee football, is an unknown to some of the elite recruits in the nation in upcoming cycles.
The fact of the matter is that Tennessee last won an SEC East crown in 2007. Terian Williams II and the other members of the 2022 recruiting class will have been between two and four years old during that season. That means that the most successful seasons these upcoming recruits can remember the Vols having will be a pair of 9-4 campaigns under Butch Jones in 2015 and 2016, both of which saw Tennessee teams underachieve what they were capable of accomplishing. Tennessee is beginning to recruit players like Williams II for their 2022 class, trying to get in early and build a solid foundation with players that will be the elite prospects in the nation when they arrive at their own National Signing Day. These players have seen Tennessee in national relevance only briefly in their lifetimes. Fulmer remains a legend at Tennessee, but his accomplishments at Tennessee are in history to these players, the same as Robert Neyland’s accomplishments. The Vols have an impressive history, devoted, crazy, passionate fans, an imposing stadium, top tier facilities, and respected, decorated coaches. The most important thing they can add to this mixture is success on the field now.
That need for success on the field cannot be overstated for Pruitt. His teams need to win games on Saturdays, they need to beat rivals, and they need to compete for titles. That is the expectation from the fans at Tennessee, but it is also a requirement to convince many top-flight recruits that they are going to a program that will develop them, that they can contribute to, and that can let them compete in nationally relevant games. That success must come soon for Tennessee, because they will struggle to recruit only on history against programs that have similar storied histories to pair with current prominence on the gridiron. That imperative to win, and win soon, is why the 2019 class is so important for Tennessee. This group will be Pruitt’s first full recruiting class and will be the foundation that he and his staff build their image of the program on. The need to win quickly is why the offensive coordinator hire is so important, and why the length of the process has led to so much gnashing of teeth among those in Vol Nation. Tennessee needs a competent hand and a bright mind to steer this offense if the Vols are to develop their talent and turn the corner back to a perennial power house of a team.
The Vols and their fans have suffered for a long time now, but there is now a point where it is time to get things right or bust. If the Vols want to land dynamic, blue chip players like Terian Williams II, then they have to get things together on the field. The Vito Corleone of Tennessee, Mister Tennessee Football, has become an imposing legend, but the Vols now need their Michael Corleone to rise up and steer things to new heights. Terian Williams II left Knoxville with one of the most interesting recruiting stories to come out in a long time. He also left as a target that the Vols and Vol Nation will wring their hands to see end up in Orange and White. He has plenty of time left to grow as a player in his high school career, but it is a career Volunteer fans should watch with keen interest. This is a talented young man that has the look early on of a player that can change the trajectory of a program. Ideally, he can take a program going the right direction and help propel it into national prominence and title games. Seeing him propel Tennessee to that level will likely mean that Jeremy Pruitt has begun to lay the foundation of his own legend in Knoxville and has made the Big Orange once again as feared as the oranges in The Godfather. The eyes of Vol Nation are focused on Knoxville for this recruiting season and coordinator hire, hoping that the foundation for brighter days is being put in place, so that players like Terian Williams II are excited to add their legacy to this proud history.