Everything Josh Heupel Said About Tennessee’s National Signing Class

Josh Heupel

Josh HeupelTennessee head coach Josh Heupel. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

Tennessee and head coach Josh Heupel officially announced the Vols’ 29-player 2022/2023 National Signing Day class on Wednesday. With 24 players coming from the high school ranks, four coming from the transfer portal, and one from the junior college ranks, there is a lot to be impressed with.

While speaking with the media in Knoxville, Heupel went through several of Tennessee’s new additions and spoke about what he is seeing from the 15 early enrollees in the first few days of practices.

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Check out everything that Josh Heupel said on Wednesday below.

Head Coach Josh Heupel
National Signing Day | 12.21.22 

Opening Statement 

“I appreciate everybody being here. Obviously, it’s an extremely important day and a great day for Tennessee football and the future of Tennessee football. It was a great practice with our guys today that are currently here. Some of those are new enrollees, and then obviously the signing day that took place this morning for most of those guys. It’s been a lot of fun going through the process with these guys. We believe in, obviously, their athleticism but just as importantly who they are. I’d like to thank their families for entrusting us with their sons for the next three-to-five years. I want to congratulate our staff. That’s our full-time coaches, everybody inside the building, our personnel department, our on-campus recruiters and our training staff. It takes everybody inside of the building to recruit elite players. I’m really proud of the effort that everybody put into it. I think it speaks to who we are. Also, a thank you to all the high school coaches in this state, but also everywhere we’ve been for receiving us and our coaches the right way and helping us navigate the process. For those that we ended up signing somebody from, thank you for, again, just trusting us, who we are, what we’re about and where this program is heading as you sent your players to us.”

On what he wants signee Nico Iamaleava to get out of the upcoming weeks and months in practice…

“For everybody that’s here, I’m proud of the class that we put together. I think it’s 28 guys. For the guys that are here currently, Nico included, you’re not going to walk into the backend of the season, learn an entire playbook and know what to do. You get a chance to sit in meetings. You get a chance to go out there and do a lot of individual work. You get a chance to compete in some 1-on-1 situations. As much as anything, I think they learn the tempo of the game. They learn what it feels like to be a college athlete. I think it creates urgency in the way they prepare when they get back to campus. Even during the down time, for us, our guys don’t arrive until later in January. There’s a lot of time between now and then. I think it speaks to the urgency that they feel they have to have. It changes the way they approach the weight room. It changes the way they prepare, their understanding of our playbook, some of the fundamentals and technique that they’re going to need to go compete at a really high level during spring ball. I just got done talking to those guys after practice and I’m really proud for the guys who have been here already and gotten a couple of bowl practices underneath their belt. First of all, you notice their athleticism, their speed, their length and their size, particularly for the guys up front. In this class, we were able to go get guys who we think can help compete, grow and have an opportunity to play. They have to earn it, learn it and take it, but help us take a step. In particular, (help us) defensively. Two years ago, we were hit heavy in the portal. For us, continuing to recruit that defensive side of the ball to add the depth that we need, along with the athleticism that we want, that’s extremely important. For everybody that’s here, I think it helps create urgency in preparing for spring ball. Those guys have had an opportunity to spend time with our players. Our players that are inside of our building have been awesome with them by showing them what it means to be a Tennessee football player and what the culture is inside the building. They’ve had an opportunity to hang out with them outside of this building. We’ve done some team building stuff and I think it’s been a great experience for all of them.”

On signees Nathan Leacock and Arion Carter…

“Arion is super athletic, smart and competitive. He’s one of the most mature guys that I’ve gone through the process with, just with what he was looking for and the questions that he asked every time that we had a conversation. He pays attention to details. You can notice that by the questions he’s asking about a previous game that we played and also by the way that he prepared for the games that he was going to play. That linebacker position is somewhere that we had to add a bunch of guys to depth-wise. I’m proud of the recruitment of Arion. That was big for us as a program. To get two of the top players inside the state and guys that will be able to help us for a long time is important. This group of guys is highly talented. I believe that there are going to be dynamic, elite players inside of this group. We were recruiting this off of a lot of outside noise still when we began this process with these guys. I think it speaks to our guys’ ability to evaluate inside of our building, look at where they’re at, where they’re going, their athletic traits and project where they’re going to be by the time you get to signing day. That’s true with Nathan. He’s long. He’s athletic. He’s already made plays out on the practice field. The thing I’ve loved about him so far is his ability to take a rep, take coaching and then incorporate that into his next rep. That’s what you’re looking for in your young guys.”

On signing the cornerback trio of Jordan Matthews, Rickey Gibson and Cristian Conyer…

“All of our secondary guys that we brought in, all five of them are here on campus competing already. From day one that they stepped on the practice field, without intentionally trying to watch them, they would pop out. You notice their athleticism, their ability to play balls and be in great body position. They’re going to continue to grow fundamentally, but as a skill guy coming in on the defensive side of the ball, their ability to blend right into what we’re doing has been really impressive from all of those guys. You look at the corner position for us this year, the injuries that we’ve had and the lack of depth, it’ll be important for all of those guys to learn quickly and be ready to go compete by the time we hit the grass in spring ball.”

On the potential of signees Daevin Hobbs, Chandavian Bradley and Caleb Herring as pass rushers…

“To me, if you’re going to start from scratch and build a program, it starts up front. We’re not starting from scratch, but that’s the quickest way to affect the game. It affects the way the game is played defensively, which changes the entire scope of the game in all three phases. Those guys are all high-level athletes. A lot of them play multiple sports. They’re explosive. You can see them jump off the floor if they’re playing basketball. You see short area quickness. They have great length. They have those physical traits that you’re looking for when you design your program. These are the measurements and the specifics that you’re looking for. Those guys all fit the criteria. Then, I think they’re highly competitive individuals who are about the right things and fit the culture too. It’s hard to find all of those things in one student-athlete that you’re able to sign. I think that class up front has a chance to help us change the way the game’s played.”

On what he likes about transfer tight end McCallan Castles…

“At the tight end position, with the roster we inherited, being limited with the amount of guys we could sign a year ago and all of those things, that’s a real position of need for us. McCallan is athletic, has the ability to play in space, has physical size, strength, want-to and explosive power to play in the core as well, which is something that we have to have. You guys know that’s a huge part of our game. He’s smart, competitive and fits the traits. He’s already here. I think he blends into the culture of that tight end room extremely well, too. He’s already connected with those guys. We’re looking forward to getting him healthy and rolling here when we get back in January.”

On what he likes about Cameron Seldon and his versatility…

“Dynamic player. You look at his junior tape, (it) was electric as a defensive player as well. He’s a football player. Instincts and then athleticism. Has the ability to help you in the return game as well. He’s a guy that has position flexibility, so for us in our tempo that gives you formation flexibility, it gives you the ability to find a matchup and put him in the position to go win. A guy that is a skill guy offensively. You have a dynamic, explosive athlete that you feel like will eventually have the ability to be a home run hitter. You have a lot of different ways to get him the football and obviously in what we do offensively, the creativeness that we have, we can find ways to use that weapon.”

On landing in-state talent Trevor Duncan…

“Huge for us. Length, explosive power, he’s another guy that’s a football player. He’s extremely tough, he’s about the right things. I love the intangibles that he’s going to bring into the building. Can’t wait to get him here. It’s important that we recruit this state at a really high level. I mentioned that in my press conference the first day that I got here. Taking the right players that fit who we are and what we’re about that also have the ability to play at a high level. I like what our staff has done here inside of this state in this recruiting class as we continue to build it. Trevor is a huge part of that. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”

On what has impressed him about QB signee Nico Iamalaeva…

“A lot of things. Got a chance to see him in person and on tape, too. He’s athletic, and I say that meaning that he understands his body. He can self-correct and get himself in the position as he’s learned what it should feel like in the pocket in a few short days. He can already start to correct himself, he understands when something happens, why it’s happening. That’s only going to continue to heighten. Obviously, the raw skills are there. Arm talent and extremely athletic and explosive inside of the pocket. Can make plays with his feet. In a short amount of time, we’ve been able to see those things already.”

On differences in recruiting between this year and last year…

“In year one there was a lot of outside noise that we couldn’t control. You’re trying to talk about what you’re going to do, then you have proof of the growth of the program in year one. You’re still speaking to that growth in year two. These guys, a lot of them were already on board, some of them came on board as the season unfolded.  I think they understand the trajectory, where this program is heading. The fact that you can compete for championships, winning national individual awards and achieve all your on-field goals right here while you’re wearing the Power T and you get to do it while you’re having a heck of a lot of fun competing every day with guys inside of the building. You put those things together, you got a really powerful product to go sell. As we continue to build here, I truly believe we’ll only continue to recruit at a more elite level as we continue down that path.”

On balancing recruiting high schoolers with recruiting transfers…

“Year one, a lot of those guys were taken after spring ball. Just where our roster was at and trying to patch some things up as we were getting ready to go compete and play on the field. A majority of what we’re going to do is going to be through the high schools. I think you got to bring in kids that are going to develop. That gives you stability and growth inside of your program, gives you leadership inside of your program. There’s a culture piece to this game that’s extremely important. I think that has to live within your high school kids that you’re recruiting. At the same time, because of the transfer portal, there’s things that you may need to patch inside of your roster. Portal and junior college give you the ability to do that. But at the end of the day, I think it’s about roster development and the development of your players inside your program and that starts with the high school kids that you’re bringing in.”

Author: Ethan Moore