By Steve Williams
There is a scene in the popular movie Hoosiers that came to mind when I heard some fans’ reaction to Jeremy Pruitt’s first National Signing Day recruiting class as UT’s new head football coach.
“We want Jimmy,” chanted students as Hickory High’s basketball team ran out onto the shiny hardwood as it was introduced during an in-school pep rally. “We want Jimmy.”
In the movie, Jimmy Chitwood had been the Huskers’ star player the previous season and the school’s principal said he was the best he had ever seen in Indiana high school basketball, but he wasn’t playing this particular season, having withdrawn from almost everything since the death of his father.
As the chanting continued, “We want Jimmy,” Coach Dale walked back out on the court and got on the microphone.
“I would hope that you would support who we are, not who we are not,” said Coach Dale in a stern voice.
The morning after National Signing Day, some UT fans were like those Hickory students. Instead of applauding the new Vols that Pruitt and his staff had landed in an abbreviated amount of time, they were complaining about not getting big-time prospects that turned down offers from Tennessee and went elsewhere.
National Signing Day bummers included linebacker Quay Walker choosing Georgia over Tennessee, wide receiver Jacob Copeland picking the Gators instead of the Vols and running back Anthony Grant and wide receiver Jordan Young flipping over to Florida State. All were 4-star prospects.
Sure, Pruitt came up short in some recruiting battles this time. But he swung for the fences, going after some of the top recruits in the nation.
After the worst season in UT football history (0-8 SEC, 4-8 overall), the fact Pruitt got many of these highly rated prospects just on campus says a lot about his reputation.
Pruitt and his staff had some victories and landed some talent that will help right away.
Prizes last Wednesday included linebacker J.J. Peterson, the country’s No. 3 rated outside linebacker, out of Georgia and 4-star defensive lineman Emmit Gooden from Independence Community College. Versatile defensive back Trevon Flowers could also turn out to be special. The former Kentucky baseball signee was wanted by Clemson.
Pruitt also signed some prospects that are expected to be redshirt freshmen and key contributors someday. Two of those were local prep standouts.
“Ollie Lane from right here in Knoxville (Gibbs High),” said Pruitt as he commented on each of his 20 signees. “Ollie is 6-3, 302 pounds, an offensive lineman. He played in an option offense in high school. He’s a really good run blocker, he’s mid-year, he’s here and he’s working hard. You can tell he’s getting stronger in the weight room.
“Jacob Warren from here in Knoxville (Farragut High),” continued Pruitt. “6-6, 212 pounds at tight end. Jacob in high school probably played more wide receiver and he knows that he has to put on some pounds to play tight end, but he’s working hard to do it.”
For those who have never seen Hoosiers, Jimmy eventually decided it was about time he started playing for the Huskers. His announcement at a town meeting received cheers and came just as the town folk had voted to remove Coach Dale from his job.
“I play, Coach stays,” said Jimmy. “He goes, I go.”
A revote was quickly called for and the decision was reversed.
Jimmy had been impressed by Coach Dale’s hard work, straightforwardness and desire to win.
Come to think of it, those qualities are a lot like Coach Pruitt’s.