How Josh Heupel plans to approach Tennessee football recruiting
Josh Heupel landed in Knoxville around 11:30 a.m. ET Wednesday.
An hour later, the new Tennessee football coach stood inside Neyland Stadium and made a proclamation about his recruiting focus in his soon-to-be home state.
“The most important thing that we do is lock down our borders,” Heupel said. “We have to keep the kids inside of this state here.”
The tandem is tasked with rejuvenating a football program mired in losing seasons and facing an ongoing investigation into recruiting violations within the football program under fired coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Heupel, 42, will do things the right way, White stressed, as they seek to build “this thing for the long haul.”
"That’s one of the great things here, you have a national name, a national logo that allows you to go coast-to-coast and go attract the biggest, the best and the brightest,” Heupel said.
But the focus, Heupel repeatedly stated, will start within Tennessee’s state lines.
“They're going to play championship-caliber football,” Heupel said. “They’re going to be developed, they're going to have an opportunity to move on to the NFL, they're going to get a great degree and they're going to be empowered to live inside this state once they're done with that degree.”
UT announced 19 signees for the 2020 class in the December signing period under Pruitt. Only three were from Tennessee: offensive lineman J’Marion Gooch (Gallatin), offensive lineman William Griffin-Parker (Nashville Pearl-Cohn), and wide receiver Walker Merrill (Brentwood). Only Merrill ranked among the top-10 in-state prospects in the 247Sports Composite.
The Vols signed 10 players from Tennessee in the 2019 class, including three of the top four players and six of the top 10 in the 247Sports Composite. The 10 players included five from Memphis, four from Knoxville and one from Nashville.
The Vols hadn't signed 10 in-state prospects since the 2015 class. They also signed 10 in 2014. Tennessee hasn't signed only two since 2010, and it signed three in 2012 and 2016.
“We have to (recruit) inside of our own borders and that's going to come from me,” Heupel said. “A focus on recruiting in-state from me has to transcend through our assistant coaching staff.”
Tennessee has a stout supply of talent in the 2022 class. Defensive tackle Walter Nolen (Cordova St. Benedict at Auburndale) is the No. 2 prospect nationally. Quarterback Ty Simpson (Martin Westview) is the second-ranked in-state recruit and No. 42 nationally to headline a top crop of offensive talent.
“That's the challenge for myself and for our coaching staff, to make contact with those guys and make sure they understand the importance they have inside of our program and the opportunity that they have inside of our program,” Heupel said. “Today, being Day One for me, I want to give them a clear vision of what we anticipate this looking like when you're here.”
Heupel, much like many of his predecessors over the past decade, started his Vols tenure with such a focus. But it needs to exist outside of the Tennessee facilities, he said, as Tennessee starts anew for the sixth time since 2008.
“It also has to reside inside every Vol fan here inside the state of Tennessee,” Heupel said. “I say that meaning that everyone has to bring energy and passion to create and sustain a positive movement through everything that we're doing to create the sustainable change we need to lock down the borders here with our recruits.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.