Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel starts the dedicated 2024 class on a high note, earning the promise of a four-star athlete Jonathan Echol at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. The aspiring junior transferred to the new school from Heard County in Franklin, Georgia last winter. He is one of the best juniors in the country and already has north of 30 Division I offers.
The 6-foot-6, 225-pounder can be fielded all over the field at the next level. Tennessee likes its potential on the tight end and that’s one of the reasons the Vols won against the final group of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Miami and Notre Dame. The Future Vol ranks as the 112th player in the class with a 5.8 rating, according to Rivals.
Ehols was just in Knoxville and last Sunday attended the final prospecting camp of June. He will be the first commitment for Tennessee in the 2024 cycle and will certainly be a pillar around which the class will be built.
Here’s an in-depth look at what Echols’ involvement means for Tennessee.
“Echols as a tight end is interesting because I don’t think it’s his most natural position. But with that athleticism, reach and size – I don’t think it’s something he wouldn’t be used to at the SEC level. You can use him as an inline blocker, or you can put him outside and create a disparity against a nickel or a linebacker with his speed and size. Josh Heupel is smart enough to design plays that will take him out onto the open field and put the ball in his hands.
He’s also a long, limber defensive end and you can never have too many of these on your defense and in the SEC. He can come off the edge and hit offensive tackles with his speed. When they start guessing, he has inside moves to figure it out. He really loves using that size to really attack people in the backfield — whether that’s when he’s chasing the quarterback, running back, or at that mesh point where he blows it all up. And chasing people to the sidelines – he’s one of the best at that in the class of 2024. He walks behind people and knocks them down.”
— Adam Gorney, National Recruiting Director for Rivals
HOW DOES ECHOLS FIT WITH THE VOLS?
It would be hard not to as Echols is the definition of the word “athlete”. Before joining IMG Academy, the versatile player served as quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, H-back and defensive end for Heard County. As a sophomore, he hit seven touchdowns and accumulated a trio of sacks defensively. The new volunteer commitment also shone in the track and field team and took part in sprints, relays and jumps.
At wide receiver, Echols has big strides to get past defense. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage and has no problem beating male coverage or the press off the line. The athlete emphasizes football, and his athleticism allows him to win fights for 50/50 balls. He is a good route runner, but this can be honed at the next level.
In Heupel’s offensive, the pass-catching first tight end has a chance to stand out.
He’s a capable pitcher in the backfield, but he won’t snap under center in Tennessee. Echols is a good runner who shows vision and patience when it comes to finding the hole in defense. He runs with good tenacity and doesn’t shy away from contact – using his feet to keep spinning while would-be tacklers charge.
As a blocker, he’s impressive. Echols isn’t overly powerful at the moment, but again uses his feet to smash defenders out of the way. He has shown the ability to drive blocks off the line of scrimmage, knock down blocks on a defensive end, and even arch-block in the outside zone or toss to keep the outside linebacker from chasing him.
Defensively, his athleticism allows him all sorts of moves. In terms of technique, there is some work to be done when it comes to making squeezes and staying off the line of scrimmage. But its explosion and acceleration wreak havoc in the backfield. The same characteristics are evident in special teams of both kick units.
Echols has a chance to morph into a really good tight end at the next level – with several elite skills for his age. But any coaching staff in America could put him in a number of different positions – and with good teaching, the prospect would thrive.
WHAT DOES ECHOLS’ COMMITMENT TO TENNESSEE MEAN?
It’s a great start for the Class of 2024. This is the second cycle in a row that the Vols have found their tight end early – showing the importance of the position for Alex Golesh in Josh Heupel’s plan. With Ethan Davis and Echols on the same offense in 2024 and beyond, Tennessee has a dangerous 1-2 tight-ended duo that can do a little bit of everything.
Tennessee loses two veteran tight ends in Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren by the time Echols hits campus, so his involvement will go a long way in supporting these snaps.
With Class 2024 still taking a backseat at the heart of the 2023 recruitment cycle, Echols has a chance to play the recruiter for his Vols. By staying in touch and forging relationships with other highly acclaimed prospects in their national class, the Volunteer Pledge can give them an edge over the rest of the field.
Those interested in Echols State can start work immediately Edwin Spillman, Boo Carter, Kumaro Brown, Brandon Heyward, Kaleb Beasley, Carson Gentle, Steven Soles and Kison Shepard. Each of the previously listed has either been offered or visited the Tennessee campus since the turn of the year.