The Tennessee Volunteers landed a monumental commitment from top-rated 2017 quarterback Hunter Johnson on Sunday.
The 5-star Indiana product picked a future in Knoxville over opportunities at Notre Dame, Stanford, N.C. State, Penn State, Florida and several other universities. Johnson felt he experienced enough in the recruiting process to make an educated decision before the start of his junior season.
“I’ve been in contact with Tennessee for so long now, and I know so much about Tennessee, I didn’t see a reason why I wouldn’t commit,” Johnson told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports. “That’s what I told my parents: Why wouldn’t I go here? I’ve always felt really, really comfortable with Tennessee.”
He is the second top-tier quarterback pledge for Tennessee in four months. Jarrett Guarantano, a 2016 New Jersey talent rated second among dual-threat playmakers in composite rankings, committed in April.
Johnson, a 5-star prospect likely to follow Guarantano's path as an Elite 11 finalist, provides one of the most pivotal moments for Tennessee since head coach Butch Jones arrived in December 2012.
Jones signed one composite 5-star player—California defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie—through his first three recruiting cycles in Knoxville. Each class resulted in a top-25 ranking on national signing day, including top-10 finishes the past two years.
Those efforts have helped revitalize the Volunteers roster, creating expectations for long-awaited SEC East contention. As Jones continues to lay the current foundation for program improvement, his future successes are addressed through high-profile pickups like Johnson.
The 6'3", 197-pound passer is the initial member of Tennessee's 2017 class. He's exactly the kind of recruiting catalyst college coaches covet.
Johnson, listed 11th overall in 2017 composite rankings, is third among junior offensive skill players. Only Alabama running back pledge Najee Harris (sixth) and Florida wide receiver Trevon Grimes (ninth) can be found higher than him at this stage.
“He’s a strong kid, broad-shouldered. He’s already very physically advanced and the type of quarterback that can sit in the pocket, take a couple of hits and deliver, and have that kind of strength and confidence in the pocket," said Barton Simmons, 247Sports’ director of scouting.
Johnson is an elite performer on the camp circuit and can be expected to substantially build off his sophomore campaign at Brownsburg High School. He completed 54 percent of pass attempts in 2014, tallying 1,424 yards (11.8 per completion), 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Johnson isn't nearly as mobile as Guarantano and certainly flashes a different overall skill set than freshman Tennessee quarterbacks Sheriron Jones and Quinten Dormady. However, he views the Volunteers' offensive attack as one that's formulated to its leader's strengths.
"I'll run when I have to, but I've always been a pass-first kinda guy," Johnson told Bleacher Report. "[Offensive coordinator Mike] DeBord told me he doesn't make the quarterback suit the offense, he makes the offense suit the quarterback. So if I want to go there and run the pro-style, he'd fit the offense to run around me."
Volunteers fans must wait 18 months until Johnson can officially sign with program, but his potential already has plenty of people talking about how he translates at the next level.
“He’s got a really elite-level arm. When he’s on, there’s not many that are better in his class. And I think he can make every throw that you want," Simmons said. "I think he’s a kid with athleticism that can function in a lot of different types of offenses."
Johnson's long-term outlook impacts how Tennessee will eventually game-plan against opponents. An immediate positive development that accompanies his decision is a potential spike on the 2017 recruiting trail.
The presence of a premier pledge at the sport's most important position could attract others to join him in Knoxville. Often, motivation for an early commitment partially comes from a quarterback's desire to ensure that he has an exemplary supporting cast heading to campus with him.
Though he holds more than 20 scholarship offers, the young quarterback always felt drawn to Knoxville. He sealed the deal Sunday.
"Tennessee was my first offer," Johnson told Derek Tyson of ESPN. "I've always believed in them from the beginning. I trust Coach Jones and the rest of the coaches there, and I feel like I will be very happy there."