Tennessee football recruiting: Vols’ hot streak in 2021 class continues with addition of four-star WR

College football programs are currently limited on the recruiting trail due to the coronavirus-induced dead period, but that hasn’t stopped Tennessee from setting that trail on fire. 

Julian Nixon, a four-star receiver and the No. 238 overall player in the Class of 2021, committed to the Volunteers on Tuesday. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound monster is the sixth player in this recruiting cycle to commit since the beginning of the impromptu dead period and the fourth player rated at four or five stars. Coach Jeremy Pruitt got a pledge from five-star defensive lineman and the No. 18 overall prospect Dylan Brooks on Sunday and followed it up with four-star safety Kamar Wilcoxson on Monday. 

The wave of commitments has moved the Volunteers up to No. 5 in the 247Sports team recruiting rankings ahead of SEC recruiting behemoths Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn. Granted, the 13 commitments — tied for the third-most in the country behind No. 1 Ohio State (17 commitments) and No. 2 North Carolina (14 commitments) — skews the numbers a bit, but that shouldn’t take away from the incredible work Pruitt has done since taking over a program in shambles.

Think back to the end of the 2017 regular season. Former coach Butch Jones had just posted the first 0-8 conference record in program history, fans rose up to prevent Greg Schiano from taking over the program and former athletic director John Currie swung and missed on Mike Leach, Dave Doeren and Mike Gunday, among others. 

Two seasons into the Pruitt era, it is clear that the program called on the right coach for the job, even if he arrived in Knoxville under unconventional circumstances. 

On the field, there have been some issues. The season-opening loss to Georgia State in 2019 followed by the loss to BYU one week later heated up Pruitt’s seat just one year and two games to his head coaching career. But since losing to Alabama on Oct. 19 in a game that saw quarterback Jarrett Guarantano go rogue on a quarterback sneak that resulted in a 100-yard Crimson Tide scoop-and-score, the Volunteers have reeled off six straight wins including a 23-22 win over Indiana in the Gator Bowl. That is tied for the fourth-longest active winning streak in college football behind LSU (15), Air Force (8) and FAU (7).

Off the field, though, it’s the second straight season that Pruitt has stocked his roster with stars. The Volunteers finished the 2020 recruiting cycle with the No. 10 class in the country. 

There’s an old saying around the SEC that is very appropriate for the Vols. “It’s not the Xs and the Os, it’s the Jimmys and the Joes.” After two years as a head coach at any level, Pruitt is still learning what it takes to add head coaching responsibilities to his already successful on-field coaching career. The players that he’s bringing to Knoxville should accelerate the rebuilding of a program that was left in a hole the size of the Grand Canyon.

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