Should-be Volunteers shining across college football, not in Knoxville

Tee Higgins

The worst home loss in the history of Florida State football featured a pair of East Tennessee natives terrorizing the Seminoles’ secondary. Not far away in Jacksonville, FL, the Georgia Bulldogs wore down and ran over the Florida Gators with yet another East Tennessean critical to the winning cause.

All three players — Clemson’s Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers, Georgia’s Cade Mays — graduated from high schools within a 25-mile radius of Neyland Stadium.

Higgins and Rodgers combined for nearly 220 receiving yards and four touchdowns in a 59-10 laugher while Mays helped a battered Bulldogs’ offensive line pave the way for 190 rushing yards in their 36-17 win. Georgia also has Columbia, TN, native Jackson Harris in its two-deep rotation at tight end.

Oregon defensive back Ugo Amadi last week was named an Associated Press Midseason All-America selection; the athletic defensive back has appeared in all 46 career games in which he’s been eligible, amassing 144 career tackles, 31 passes defended, eight interceptions and three touchdowns. Amadi tried to flip to the Vols late in his recruitment, but was spurned by the previous regime.

Also at Oregon is wideout Dillon Mitchell, a silky-smooth athlete from Memphis who’s shooting up NFL Draft charts. The junior owns 92 career receptions for more than 1,200 yards including a record-setting 239-yard outburst in September against Stanford.

Similarly, Dylan Jackson has appeared in 35 career games, with more than 20 starts, for the Stanford Cardinal tallying 80 tackles. UT recruited Jackson, who like Amadi, Texas A&M’s Tyrel Dodson and Vanderbilt’s JoeJuan Williams has garnered NFL Draft chatter, to play along the offensive line. Jackson ultimately eliminated the Vols and picked Stanford over LSU.

Though he already would have exhausted his eligibility at Tennessee, Jalen Hurd transferred away from UT due to a fractured relationship with Butch Jones and staff. Now, Hurd has turned into a likely All-Big 12 wideout at Baylor.

So, a rebuilding task that Jeremy Pruitt readily confronted when accepting the University of Tennessee post almost exactly 11 months ago has been compounded by a season in which Volunteer State natives have shined for out-of-state schools arguably at unprecedented levels.

For good measure, you can throw in knowledge that Clemson rookie phenom Trevor Lawrence told reporters this week he has donned the No. 16 jersey to honor his idol, Peyton Manning, and that he had developed a love for Manning and the Vols as he grew up.

Pruitt’s work has been compounded by the last coaching staff’s myriad mistakes, mistakes he’s striving to overcome, especially on the recruiting trail.

“If you’re not recruiting every day, then you’re probably not going to be a good recruiter,” Pruitt told reporters in Knoxville on Monday. “So, we’ve got to be good recruiters regardless of when the signing date is [as college football enters its second year of an early signing period in December and the traditional date in February].

“I think our guys know that.”

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