football Edit

Some prospects taking a wait-and-see approach with Vols

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Max Wray has no skin in this game.

The Rivals250 tackle is committed to Ohio State and intends to stay that way. Despite living roughly 200 miles away from the University of Tennessee’s campus, the Vols are the furthest thing from his mind. That doesn’t mean he’s unaware of the narrative, though. Wray hears plenty about the in-state school. So as he stands, topped by camouflaged hat, inside an FCS practice facility watching his younger brother participate in the Mike Vick NPA Camp, he lays out a top recruit’s view of the state’s most famous football program.

What does the upcoming season of Tennessee football mean in the eyes of prospects? According to Wray, the answer is “everything.”

“Just looking at them, they have to win this year,” Wray said. “I personally know a lot of guys are going to wait and see how they play this year before deciding if that’s where they want to be or not.”

Head coach Butch Jones is not on the hot seat so to speak. He’s not likely to be fired this season, but that’s not the point Wray and other prospects are attempting to make. To a growing group of recruits, “what do you make of Tennessee?” is a question without an answer. This season could very well provide it.

Jones is currently the owner of America’s 12th-best recruiting class. The Vols are, once again, on a hot streak. But, as Wray notes, such a thing can be fickle.

“A lot of guys like Tennessee just because they’re from Tennessee,” Wray said. “They want to go there if everything is good. But if a situation is that you don’t think you’re going to win or you’re going to go in there not knowing who the coaches are going to be, then it’s a little different. It’s something people are definitely talking about.”

Recruiting is perception and what unfolds in Knoxville this fall will likely change the school’s perception be it for better or for worse. Skepticism is in the air in here Nashville, where a group of top prospects waits to see its opinions confirmed or refuted by what’s shaping up to be the most pivotal of years for Jones and his team.

Adonis Otey
Adonis Otey (

Class of 2019 wide receiver Eric Gray doesn’t hold an offer from Tennessee as things stand, but he’s not deaf to the conversation among his peers. The buzz hasn’t missed him by any stretch.

“They have to prove something this year,” Gray said “I haven’t really talked to them a lot, but we all talk to each other. We all see it like this is they year they prove it.”

Painting the opinions of all area recruits with a broad brush isn’t fair or safe. Four-star defensive back Adonis Otey is committed to Tennessee and doesn’t think any finish, be it 2-10 or 14-0, will do much to change his opinion of the program. According to him, he’s signing with the Vols regardless.

Otey shrugs as he explains his stance.

“I feel like they should contend for an SEC championship, but nothing is going to change anything for me,” Otey said. “I’m going there no matter what happens.”

The topic, like most things, is nuanced. During Sunday’s camp registration, four-star athlete Myles Mason called Tennessee a program “on shaky ground, honestly,” but the opposite viewpoint also exists and one didn’t have to leave the camp to find it. In the end, however, the buzz matters not. The expectations aren’t going anywhere either way. Those have arrived in force and they aren’t budging.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’re going to be good for a couple years,” said four-star defensive tackle D'Andre Litaker, who holds an offer from the Vols along with most other SEC schools. “I’d say they’ll win 10 or more games this year. I’ll say that’s what they are going to do. I know they will because of this class and the only that came in last year. I know and expect they’ll be really good.”