KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee added to its already highly-regarded 2020 signing class on Wednesday afternoon with the additions of Dee Beckwith and Malachi Wideman on National Signing Day.
With Beckwith and Wideman now on board, the Vols have signed 23 total players in their 2020 class. UT also added a pair of transfers in Georgia offensive lineman Cade Mays and Southern Cal wide receiver/kick returner Velus Jones.
After Wednesday’s additions, Tennessee now has the 10th rated class in the nation according to the 247 Sports’ 2020 recruiting class rankings.
“I think recruiting has a little bit of momentum to it,” head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “When you get guys that start committing to a certain school, guys want to be a part of that. Right now, we won six straight games and seven out of our last eight. That created some momentum on the field and some momentum in December.
“We have done a nice job closing in the early signing period. And the spots that we had to fill today I couldn’t be happier about the guys that we added to this group. I feel like the momentum we did create on the field, it had an effect on recruiting.”
Beckwith comes to the Vols from Florence, Alabama, where he played on both sides of the ball for Florence High School and also starred on the basketball and track and field teams.
“He’s a guy that we targeted really early,” Pruitt said. “He’s one of these guys that in high school football had the ball in his hands a lot. He played wildcat quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety and some linebacker. He’s a guy that projects to play a number of positions, but when you watch him play, where he’s the most dynamic is when the ball is in his hands. That’s what we’re going to do with him when he gets here is we’re going to give him the opportunity to put the ball in his hands. But again, he’s just a fantastic athlete.”
As a senior, Beckwith garnered first-team All-State honors and was the No. 7 rated player on the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s (ASWA) Super 12 All-State Team after totaling 1,055 rushing yards, 589 passing yards and 526 receiving yards to go along with 27 total touchdowns. Beckwith helped the Falcons reach the second round of the 2019 Class 7A playoffs after leading the team to its first playoff victory in five years.
Wideman hails from Sarasota, Florida, where he was a star wide receiver at perennial powerhouse Venice High School. With the help of Wideman, Venice reached the 2019 Class 7A state semifinals.
“The guy is an unbelievable athlete,” Pruitt said. “I had the opportunity to watch him play a basketball game and you can just see the athleticism all over the basketball court. When you watch him on the football field, his catch radius, his instincts to play the position, his ability to high point the football, his toughness and the fact that he’s a very fluid athlete means that he has a very high ceiling and we’re really excited to have him as a part of our program.”
Wideman had a breakout senior season in 2019, catching 65 passes for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns, more than doubling his career output. He was named to the Inaugural Sports Illustrated All-American Team for his performance in 2019. Wideman is an elite athlete who also plays basketball and won the 2019 City of the Palms Classic Dunk Contest.
For a complete list of Tennessee’s 2020 signees, check out the National Signing Day Central page HERE.
Jeremy Pruitt Press Conference Transcript
“With the changing of the recruiting calendar it’s interesting to look at this second phase of signing day. We really addressed a lot of needs in the early period. We had an opportunity to add two mid-year transfers. One is Cade Mays – who I believe is one of the best offensive linemen in the SEC – and Velus Jones – who is a grad transfer from USC who is a punt/kick returner who has a lot of experience and is a guy that coach (Tee) Martin had an opportunity to recruit from his time at USC. He’s also a guy that can add valuable experience and leadership to a position where we need help. We lost a lot of production at the wide receiver position, so it’s good to add Velus there.
“With the two signees today, we’ll start with Malachi Wideman. The guy is an unbelievable athlete. I had the opportunity to watch him play a basketball game and you can just see the athleticism all over the basketball court. When you watch him on the football field, his catch radius, his instincts to play the position, his ability to high point the football, his toughness and the fact that he’s a very fluid athlete means that he has a very high ceiling and we’re really excited to have him as a part of our program.
“Dee Beckwith is an athlete from Florence, Alabama. He’s a guy that we targeted really early. He’s one of these guys that in high school football had the ball in his hands a lot. He played wildcat quarterback, running back, wide receiver, safety and some linebacker. He’s a guy that projects to play a number of positions, but when you watch him play, where he’s the most dynamic is when the ball is in his hands. That’s what we’re going to do with him when he gets here is we’re going to give him the opportunity to put the ball in his hands. But again, he’s just a fantastic athlete.
“Both of these guys play basketball and we’re going to give them the opportunity to do that here. That was something in the recruiting process that was important to both of these young men.
“When you look at our class, I feel like we added a lot of big men up front. That’s where it always starts. When you look at the wide receiver group, I believe this is one of the best wide receiver groups in the country when you talk about potential. At the quarterback position we added two guys there and then three guys at the tailback position. Then you turn around and look defensively and the guys we added up front, we’re really excited about this group. We feel like with the character they have, all of the intangibles and their make up it’s going to be a really good fit with the guys we have returning. This says a lot about everyone we have in our recruiting department, our assistant coaches, our players, our administration and everyone we have involved in the recruiting process. A lot of times in recruiting you say, ‘who’s recruiting this guy, or who’s recruiting that guy?,’ and it really takes everybody. I think our coaches would be the first people to tell you that. There’s a lot that goes into the recruiting process. Our recruiting department, our operations, our strength and conditioning, our academics, we have so much to sell here and everyone is on board to help us get to where we want to get to.
“We’ve had a few additions to our coaching staff starting with Jay Graham. Jay is a guy I coached with at Florida State. I had a chance to play against him when he played here. I’m very familiar with Jay. First off, when you talk about the kind of person he is, we’re excited to bring him, his wife Kelly and their five children here. He played at Tennessee, he’s from right across the line in North Carolina. He wanted to be here and when you talk about the guys that he’s coached over the years, the experience that he has as a coach and as a player in this league, he’s a guy that can develop the running back position. You’re also talking about a guy that has high character and is a great guy to recruit to.
“There (was) an opportunity to add Joe Osovet and his wife Sandy to our full-time staff. Joe has been with us for two years. He is a guy that was a head football coach at Nassau Junior College and ASA Junior College and a guy that I didn’t know when I took the job here. But I have watched film on some of the teams that he used to coach and I was very impressed. I gave him a call and gave him an interview with a position we had at the time and didn’t hire him for that position, but it was a guy that we wanted on our staff. He has done a fantastic job since he has been here. I think he has a very bright mind and has lots of really good ideas offensively.
“When we first got here I said that Brian Niedermeyer is a guy that can coach on either side of the ball. He played offense in high school and college, and as he became a coach, he spent most of his time on the defensive side. He has done an excellent job with our tight ends for the last two years, but with the flexibility that Brian has, moving him to inside linebackers is going to be a great addition. It is going to be great for him because it shows the value that he has as a coach and his versatility as a coach.
“We are excited about the additions that we have and the direction of our program. Our kids are working extremely hard. That is one of the things with being out on the road for three weeks, I really haven’t had an opportunity to see all our players. As we come in, some of them are involved with recruiting, which the month of January is not nearly as big as far as numbers when it goes to recruiting, so you don’t see as many guys. It is interesting how many guys have seen me on the weekends and I have had an opportunity to spend some time with them. But the last couple days being in the office and giving them a chance to see our guys and see them work and be around them, kind of excites me of where we are heading. And (with) the work ethic that these guys have, we are off to a good start this semester academically. I am kind of excited to get into our full fledge offseason program and get ready for spring ball.”
On how the way the season ended has impacted this recruiting class:
“I think recruiting has a little bit of momentum to it. When you get guys that start committing to a certain school, guys want to be a part of that. Right now, we won six games and seven out of our last eight. That created some momentum on the field and some momentum in December. We have done a nice job closing in the early signing period. And the spots that we had to fill today I couldn’t be happier about the guys that we added to this group. I feel like the momentum we did create on the field, it had an effect on recruiting.”
On what his take is on recruiting near Tennessee instead of nationally:
“You always want to start at home base, which is our state. We signed 10 guys from our state in this class and you work out from there. The brand that we have, we can recruit anybody across the country. I think you have to do a good job on number one, home base (and) out. You don’t want to spend your time 12 hours away from Knoxville a whole lot, because most times probably because your success rate isn’t as good there. You want to be efficient with your time and make sure you are recruiting the right guys. I think Drew Hughes and his staff in the recruiting department has done a really nice job on (creating) a plan with our coaches in the area that they recruit. Setting our boards, which I think is really important. We are always watching tape to try to re-rank our players. We are getting ready to start the next couple of classes here. We have most of these guys on our board and you want to follow up. You are always trying to gather as much information as possible. We will recruit anybody anywhere that wants to come to Tennessee.”
On if the number of talented prospects in the state of Tennessee has increased over the years:
“That’s probably not a fair question for me because historically at the other schools that I’ve worked at, I’ve never really had this state as a primary area for me to recruit. So, I don’t know as much about the history, but I know right now that there’s lots of really good football players in this state that we’ve just signed. We’re excited to have them. They’re well-coached, they want to be here, they’re good students and that’s always a good thing. When you can sign 10 guys from your home state, I think that helps down the road with the next group.”
On regrouping the board of prospects following the early signing period and holding scholarship spots open for potential transfers:
“When you talk about Malachi in particular, I think he was pretty set on where he was going to go to school. There obviously was a coaching change there and he decided to not sign in the early signing period. He was a guy that we targeted early on, but we didn’t get much traction there. Once he didn’t sign, I really feel like Chris Weinke did a fantastic job staying the course with him the entire time. It kind of kept us in the game and because of that we had the opportunity to get him here and build relationships over the last six weeks that enabled us an opportunity to sign him.
“As far as holding a scholarship, I think lots of times it depends on your roster. I think everybody’s rosters are a little bit different. You can look at guys based off of numbers and you can also look at it based off of depth at certain positions or maybe even age at certain positions. Maybe you have some guys that you think have a chance to be really good players but if you could take a guy that is 22 as opposed to 18, he may come in and help immediately before that guys could. So, it probably differs with each school.”
On Wideman potentially playing basketball:
“When he came on his official visit we got him over there with Rick (Barnes) and his staff and we do that with a lot of sports. When you recruit guys that are doing multiple sports, you have to do that. Kenney Solomon is running track right now, so it is something in the recruiting process that we lay out a plan for. They are on football scholarships, so it starts there, but you lay out a plan that you feel like they can have success. Whether it’s on the football field, the track or the baseball diamond or the basketball court, but at the same time being able to handle being a student at the same time.”
On recruiting rankings and what his staff looks for:
“We have critical factors for each position. For a defensive back, does he have the ability to play man-to-man, can he tackle in space and what kind of range of ball skills does he have? That’s three critical factors that you’ve got to be able to do to be a successful defensive back in this league. There is a height, weight and speed component in there and there are the intangibles – toughness and dependability – each of those things is important. Each individual position has the critical factors that we are looking for. We have a grading scale that we go by. They have to hit certain marks and if they hit them then that’s what we believe it takes to have success in this league. That’s how we go about ranking our players and setting our board and deciding. When you’re recruiting high school kids, to get the correct information is tough because everybody’s not going to the combine and the competition that guys are playing against, all these things you have to take into account. Also, what kind of program are they coming from? Do they have a great weight program, a great nutrition program? All these things can create an advantage for a kid in his development or a disadvantage. You’ve got to take all these things into account.”
On if he’s coached a player that’s committed to play football and basketball:
“Not since I’ve coached at Hoover High School. Our schedule there wasn’t much different than our bowl schedule here, as we usually played until the second or third week in December. So, when football season is over with, he’ll go to basketball.”
On the process of Velus Jones transferring to Tennessee:
“We didn’t have a relationship last year. Tee knew Velus. I think there was a point in time he was possibly looking to transfer (last year). With the grad transfer deal now, he can go anywhere he wants. He’s from Mobile, Alabama, so this is a lot closer for his family to have an opportunity to come watch him play.”
On if there was depth needed at skilled positions:
“We were recruiting the best players available and the guys we had traction with. We recruited guys that fit a need for us. Did we need to add another guy at the wide receiver position for this cycle? Our numbers from a number standpoint say yes, we need 10 guys on scholarship. But the opportunity to get a guy like Malachi Wideman, you’re not going to pass on.”
On Will Friend and his recruiting:
“Let’s start with Jimmy Holiday. Traditionally, there’s not been a lot of kids from the state of Mississippi that have come to Tennessee. There’s been a few right there from the area Jimmy is from who have come here and had a lot of success, so that helped to start with. Again, going back to the identification process, we offered Jimmy early, stayed on him, he committed to another school, but we continued to stay on him and had an opportunity to get him in the end. He’s a mid-year guy and he’s here. Every time we have a group in here in recruiting, Jimmy’s in here recruiting. He’s a guy who was a leader on his high school football team. To me, he has a great makeup about him and I’m excited about seeing him compete this spring. Dee Beckwith, again, that’s Will’s area. Between Will and Tee (Martin), I really think they did a fantastic job working together to make sure we got Dee, as well as Jim Chaney also. Again, it’s a team effort, and I think these guys have done a really nice job using the other parts and people in our program to help us get really good student-athletes.”
On who will assume special teams responsibilities:
“Well, Jay [Graham] absolutely could do it, along with other guys on our staff. We have yet to really sit down and iron that out exactly. But he’s plenty capable and all of our coaches coach special teams, so we’ve got lots of guys familiar with what we’ve done in the past, and we’ll continue to use everybody in that capacity. At some point in time before spring ball, we’ll iron that out exactly.”