Tennessee Vols Senior Day 2018: A Look Back at the 2014 and 2015 Signing Classes

Vols Senior Day 2018

As Tennessee celebrates Vols Senior Day 2018, it’s worth looking back to the recruiting classes that brought these seniors to Knoxville. For Tennessee fans, it’s a case of depressing flashbacks and a lot of “what ifs?”.

A Look Back at the 2014 and 2015 Signing Classes

Of course, the discussion about these two senior classes requires context. And 99% of that context centers around former head coach Butch Jones. Jones’ 2014 and 2015 classes were ranked seventh and fourth, respectively, nationally by industry composite rankings on 247Sports.com. This isn’t an analysis of Jones’ recruiting abilities, we’ve had that talk here with all the numbers and complete breakdown. What this shows is the tremendous internal, non-organic turnover in the program over the last five years. Which, in turn, makes it difficult for the current roster–even with talent– to adjust to the culture change of head coach Jeremy Pruitt.

The 2014 Class:

Still on the Roster: Dillon Bates and Todd Kelly, Jr. That’s it. Just two scholarship, non-transfer redshirt seniors. Bates, admittedly, was plagued with injuries during his time in Knoxville and wasn’t able to make meaningful contributions. Kelly, Jr., showed glimpses but regressed in his senior season in Pruitt’s new system. For the 64th-ranked player in the nation out of high school, you would expect more production from him. But he’s been solid in his four years on campus.

What Could Have Been: It’s easy to forget that this class has four players playing in the NFL right now (Josh Malone, Derek Barnett, Emmanuel Moseley, and Rashaan Gaulden). That doesn’t include current free agents Evan Berry and Ethan Wolf. Nor does it count Von Pearson, playing in the Arena League.

But more important than that are the transfers and losses. This class had 32 signees and was ranked seventh nationally. No less than eight players transferred out of the program, including six to other Power 5 schools. Jalen Hurd and Vic Wharton are having success and Baylor and Cal. And D’Andre Payne was an honorable mention All-Big 12 and academic All-Big 12 cornerback at Iowa State last season. Payne is having another solid season in Ames. That’s a lot of talent that seeped out of Knoxville in five years. And, of course, three dismissals as well, not including Pearson. That includes running back Treyvon Paulk, Michael Sawyers, and Joe Henderson.

The 2015 Class:

Still on the Roster (As Seniors): Shy Tuttle, Kyle Phillips, Micah Abernathy. Tuttle and Phillips should be on the “What Could Have Been” list. When they’ve been healthy, they’ve been strong players. Phillips was the defensive player of the game in Tennessee’s upset of Auburn. And Abernathy’s career in Knoxville is solid, although not remarkable.

Still on the Roster (As Redshirt Juniors): Drew Richmond, Darrin Kirkland, Jr., Jauan Jennings, Quart’e Sapp, and Darrell Taylor. Kirkland, Jennings have been made impacts since their arrival on campus. Sapp and Taylor are blossoming under Pruitt’s defensive schemes and having solid seasons. Richmond must still be considered a near-bust, although his play against Kentucky was easily his best game of his career.

What Could Have Been: The 2015 class was ranked fourth nationally. The class has three players currently in the NFL, including Alvin Kamara, John Kelly, and Kahlil McKenzie. Again, this class has no less that eight transfers out of 29 signees, including current starters Venzell Boulware (Miami), Tommy Townsend (Florida), Sheriron Jones (New Mexico), Preston Williams (Colorado State). Add to that list Houston back-up quarterback Quinten Dormady, who was Tennessee’s starting quarterback to start the 2017 season. This class also lost Jack Jones to injury and two others to dismissals.

Every program has transfer turnover. But not at this rate. And when you lose players to transfer and they’re starting and having success with schools doing better than your program (at least three) and you have seven players contributing in the NFL and still struggle to get to a bowl game, it’s clear and irrefutable evidence of the state of the program over the last five years. Tennessee’s problems weren’t limited to the field and the donor suites; they were in the locker room and coach’s offices as well.

What Is and What Could Have Been

Saturday is about the seniors playing their last home game. Tennessee fans will honor them, as they always do and as they should. And Saturday will be about them.

But it’s hard for Tennessee fans to not wonder how things would be different with a little more stability and few other names coming out of the tunnel.

Unfortunately for Tennessee’s seniors on Saturday, the fans will be looking hopefully forward as much as they’re remembering the senior class’s time in Knoxville.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images