By Mark Nagi
Recruiting is an inexact science to say the least. You really don’t know what a Class will look like until 2-3 years after those kids arrive on campus.
But at least for now, Tennessee fans should feel good about the Class of 2022.
The early signing period has come and gone, and the future of the Vols is a lot brighter today than it was a few months ago. 247Sports has Tennessee listed as having the 14th ranked class in this recruiting cycle, 6th best in the Southeastern Conference.
“So excited about being able to add the 20 young men to Tennessee football here today,” said Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel on December 15, the first day of the early signing period. “It was a culmination of a lot of hard work over the last 10 and a half months.”
A key get in any class is the quarterback, and the Vols think they got a good one in 4-star Tayven Jackson. The 6’4,” 195-pound signal caller from Greenwood, Indiana could be called on sooner than later. Remember, the Vols saw Brian Maurer and Harrison Bailey hit the transfer portal, and Kaidon Salter was dismissed from the team. “He’s (Jackson) a two-time state champion,” said Heupel. “He comes from an elite program and understands the work habits that you have to have to go achieve something individually and collectively as a team. I think he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s going to be as a quarterback.”
The Vols didn’t get any 5-star recruits in this cycle but did bring in seven 4-stars. The highest-rated of those is defensive lineman Tyre West from Tifton, Georgia.
“Tyre’s got a ton of upside as a player, man,” said Heupel. “His ability to play with great pad level, play on an edge, bend the corner. Physically, he’s just going to mature so much when he gets in our strength and conditioning and nutrition program… Ultimately, he believed in Tennessee. He believed in the Power of the T. He believed in the people that were here that were going to help him navigate the road over the next three, four, five years.”
Picking up West shows that the Vols can once again go into Georgia and make some important additions. During Tennessee’s glory days, they were able to bring in lots of talent from Georgia. In this class, Tennessee got a whopping 8 kids from the Peach State. Adding Rodney Garner to his staff as defensive line coach was perhaps Heupel’s most vital move when building his coaching staff. Garner is a key recruiter, especially in Georgia.
One thing that Heupel and his assistants were not able to do is to keep the top talent in the state of Tennessee from leaving for other opportunities. The Class of 2022 only features two student-athletes that played their high school football in Tennessee, and none of those kids are among to top ten in the state. That’s something the Vols hope will turn around in the years to come.
“Some of those things don’t happen overnight,” said Heupel. “Our entire staff, from me on down, has placed great importance on recruiting in-state the right way. That means spending time getting to know coaches and people that are influential here inside of the state, taking phone calls from VFLs that watch a guy on Friday night and like what they see. I think in this recruiting cycle in particular… that was maybe the biggest hurdle for us to overcome, I say that meaning that the players inside of the state heard all of the noise for the two and a half months before I got here, and all the noise previously as well. (We had a) short amount of time to get to spend a bunch of time with them. (Due to) COVID, didn’t have them on campus. So, in some ways, I think it was harder in-state than maybe out-of-state this year a little bit.”