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Inside Tennessee's Re-emergence in Walter Nolen's Top Schools


Yesterday Walter Nolen was named the nation's top player in the 2022 recruiting class, according to the ESPN 300. Last week, he released his top five (likely final) schools, and it included a few significant shakeups from his previously released top eight list from April. LSU, Oregon, Ohio State, and USC all fell off the list, while Tennessee, who was not on the original list, re-entered the race. We provide some insight into the Vols rise.

June kicked off a flurry of recruiting visits for prospects across the nation. Numerous 2022 players rushed to fit all five official visits into the month to attempt to make a decision before their high school season.

Nolen did not use five official visits, but the elite prospect took at least eight trips during the month, including an early trip. Tennessee got Nolen on campus in an unofficial capacity, and the visit set the tone for the Vols to make up ground in the recruitment. Nolen and his family spent approximately ten hours on campus with Rodney Garner and the Tennessee staff during the visit, according to sources.

Later in the month, Nolen returned again in an unofficial capacity, and the relationship continued to grow, but Tennessee's pitch to Nolen has always remained the same.

"I am probably going to say Coach G and the recruiting staff," Walter Nolen Sr. told Sports Illustrated about the reasoning behind Tennessee's rise. "When they came in, from day one when they got there, they were like we have to have Walter. He is a top priority for us. Just looking at Coach G's body of work— 30 plus years—multiple kids go on to the NFL. He is really good at what he does, so that was a big plus for them."

Tennessee has offered both of Nolen's little brothers, Warren and Waylon, and the Vols became the first school to offer Waylon. This was another big deal for the elite prospect. Both of the little brothers already project as top players in their class, but for Tennesee to make the offer to both meant a great deal.

Now, with a huge month of June behind them, Nolen continues to eye an August decision, and his father believes it is still possible.

"Knowing him, it is possible," Nolen Sr. said. "He had originally said December, but I was like, 'Nah.' It will be done before then. It is quite possible."

Nolen has plenty of question marks around him entering the fall. Where will he play high school ball? Where will he visit during the last week of July when things open up for a week? Where will he commit in August?

Nolen previously played at St. Benedict's at Auburndale in Memphis, but after former Vol Marlon Walls, Nolen's mentor, stepped down as head coach, it does not appear the elite prospect will return there. The option of staying in Tennessee, possibly even East Tennessee, remains on the table, which would be key for the Vols. However, a return to the national powerhouse IMG Academy remains a possibility. Something will break on this front in the coming days, as IMG reports back on the 19th of the month, while other schools across the country are already getting to work.

As far as the end of July visits, who knows? The Nolen family is not sure at this time.

"We haven't decided about the last week of July," Nolen Sr. said. "A couple of coaches have hinted about it, but nothing definite. It is possible we go somewhere, but we could end up not going anywhere. It just depends."

The Vols will certainly hope to get him back on campus one more time before he enters decision mode.

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