football Edit

Continued growth, wins needed for some juice

“Piling on” is illegal in football.

And it’s really not a nice thing to do in life, either. But sometimes, even at the risk of piling on, we can’t avoid some topics.

Like the Jay Hardy-to-Auburn announcement. Jesse wrote it yesterday morning: “No sugarcoating this one. HUGE loss.”

Recruiting is probably harder than it’s ever been and is only going to get more challenging with players eventually making money off their image and likeness. But you don’t want to hear that as the Vols finished second for Hardy, who told Tennessee he was coming last week but chose Auburn instead on Wednesday.

The loss of Hardy was a big one to Tennessee’s 2020 class and shows that the Vols still have plenty of work to do. Despite winning three of their last four, positioning themselves for a bowl berth and showing legitimate growth as a program, Tennessee got a kick in the teeth kid from Chattanooga.

It feels like a loss. And it is.

Jeremy Pruitt will continue to try and recruit Hardy. He will do a full self-scout into the recruitment, but what he will find will initially be confusing

Tennessee wasn’t late to offer Hardy.

They didn’t neglect him.

They got him on campus multiple times.

They got him to commit privately back in July.

They got him to reaffirm that commitment with his family two weeks ago on an official visit for the South Carolina game, a visit date Hardy requested because he was ready to get things over with.

So why did Hardy pick Auburn? We don’t really know. But a talented defensive lineman from the state is going to an SEC rival, leaving Pruitt and Tennessee at the altar. Hardy said “no” to the Vols and reminded everyone in the process that Tennessee still has plenty of work to do to be “back.”

Now, recruiting the state of Tennessee has never been a slam dunk for the Big Orange. See Patrick Turner, Shaun Bohannan, Cade Mays, Tee Higgins, the Collins brothers, Leroy Thompson and the list goes on and on.

Some guys just want to get away from home. Some connect with a coach or a future teammate elsewhere. Some feel that another football program or university itself is a better fit.

It will always happen. The Vols are never going to sweep the state of Tennessee. They never have and they never will, but they have never lost more top Tennessee high school prospects than they have in the last 10 years.

Pruitt certainly needs to evaluate his staff as recruiters moving forward and what might need to be addressed. But shaking up the staff won’t be in the No. 1 key to grabbing more Tennessee talent.

It’s about “juice.”

In the 1990’s, Tennessee’s program was flush with juice — as much as any program in the country. Every prospect in the state of Tennessee and players all over the country wanted attention from Tennessee. The Vols were winning, they were producing big stars and they were a completely cool brand.

I have recounted this before: My son will be 15 in December and he still marvels at the fact that Tennessee used to be better than Alabama. He has never known Tennessee as a proud football power.

Today, the Vols have little juice with kids like my son. Winning 3 of your last 4 is good, but one can’t say the Vols are better than Auburn,Texas A&M, Georgia, or Alabama. Or LSU. Or Clemson. Or Florida at this point.

Tennessee’s 0-2 start didn’t help recruiting, but kids haven’t said “no” to Tennessee because of that start. No, those prospects are willing to turn away Tennessee because of the Vols’ recent lack of relevancy.

That’s why closing out this season the right way is vital for Pruitt and his staff. Tennessee needs tangible proof they are moving in the right direction. His program also needs some juice. It’s why November is huge for this team. The juice can’t come from slogans or fancy highlights on social media.

The juice has to come from success in the win column and success of individuals.

Because recruiting isn’t getting any easier.

Jay Hardy drove that home on Wednesday.

Tennessee must keep winning to make it harder for future Jay Hardys to tell them “no.”