While many of his sportswriting peers – myself included – often have been left searching for stories this spring, Ryan Callahan has been reporting and writing full throttle.
He covers Tennessee football and its recruiting for the website 247Sports. Since late April, he’s been chronicling a surge unlike any he’s experienced at this time of year during his 10 years of coverage.
Beginning with defensive end Dylan Brooks, 14 recruits in the Class of 2021 have committed to the Vols since April 26. Ten of these prospects have a 4-star rating or higher. This haul has vaulted the Vols to No. 2 behind Ohio State in the 247Sports’ national rankings for recruiting.
Callahan recalled UT landing eight commitments on one June day in 2016. But that gathering took place in conjunction with a Big Orange Carpet weekend event during the Butch Jones’ era. And all eight of those prospects were rated three-star prospects.
This year’s haul has occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. There’s been no campus visits or in-person meetings. There’s been no opportunity to roll out any carpet for anyone.
No matter, Callahan believes that the prevailing circumstances have benefitted Tennessee.
“Tennessee had sort of laid the groundwork with most of these guys,” he said.
Many of them had visited campus already and attended games last fall. Callahan said that Brooks had visited eight times and attended three games. The flood of commitments has served to support Callahan’s belief that timing tends to make some visits more important than others.
“I tell people this all the time,” he said. “Sometimes the visits that can be the most important are when (recruits) are going to games their junior years.”
With a foundation of familiarity in place, the Vols weren’t stymied by the limitations created by the pandemic. If anything, the cancellation of spring practice and other on-campus activities created more time for recruiting, virtually or otherwise.
“Even though visits aren’t happening, in some respects the recruiting process has been ramped up,” Callahan said.
For recruits, the uncertainty of the future regarding this process created incentive to act.
“I think it’s caused a lot of players to think I need to go ahead and claim my spot at the school I like,” Callahan said.
The sheer number of players choosing Tennessee, in turn, has served the Vols’ recruiting purposes. Offensive tackle Colby Smith told Callahan that UT’s spree “may have sped the process up a little bit” when he committed on May 4.
There’s been other factors as well that are unrelated to the pandemic:
- Peer recruiting: Callahan said that defensive back Kamar Wilcoxson, who helped get the surge started, might be the best peer recruiter since Kahlil McKenzie.
“He’s a well-connected guy,” Callahan said of Wilcoxson. “He’s considered to be a bit of an Alpha-type person.”
- Staff recruiting: Tennessee assistants Derrick Ansley, Jay Graham, Joe Osovet and Tee Martin currently hold down the top four spots in 247Sports’ recruiting rankings for coaches. Brian Niedermeyer, who was named national recruiter of the year in 2019, is sixth.
Graham joined the staff in January while Osovet was promoted to tight ends coach in February.
Since it’s a long time until the first signing day in December, Tennessee’s list of commitments is bound to fluctuate. In the meantime, the circumstances have made an unprecedented spring seem not so unusual in one respect.
“Traffic on our site has picked up,” Callahan said. “It’s generated more interest, more in line with a normal year.”
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He can be reached at email@example.com.