Tennessee has two of the best defensive back coaches in the country in Jeremy Pruitt and Derek Ansley. The pair have helped to bring some elite defensive back talent to Tennessee in their time together, and the secondary is a high priority again in the 2021 cycle. While Tennessee feels good about what they return on the back end for the 2020 and potentially 2021 season, the Vols are looking to not just land elite talent in the secondary. To take the next step and contend for the SEC on a year-in and year-out basis, the Vols need to recruit enough elite talent that to create depth with it. They want to bring in players that can push to contribute early, but can step in to fill the void when upper classmen leave the program. This is especially important in the secondary, where so much of what Pruitt wants to do defensively relies on having defensive backs that can thrive in man coverage, while being versatile enough to play multiple positions or different roles at a single position. The Tennessee staff is looking for those athletes with the frames and talent that they can develop into elite SEC defenders, and that is precisely what they felt they got when they landed four-star defensive back Kamar Wilcoxson out of IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL) today.
Wilcoxson is exactly the kind of defensive back that Jeremy Pruitt has put a premium on recruiting since arriving in Knoxville. At 6’1” and 205 pounds, Wilcoxson has the size to play anywhere in the secondary effectively. Importantly, he has the speed, skillset, and intelligence to play multiple roles, even in Pruitt and Ansley's complex defensive scheme. Wilcoxson is a player that the Tennessee staff has good reason to expect to transition to the college game quickly. Wilcoxson has been a multi-year starter for high school powerhouse IMG Academy. He has been playing in a system and for a school that is designed to prepare him for college and allow him to make a smooth transition to the classroom and an early impact on the field. Wilcoxson has been asked to digest a college level playbook while at IMG, and has been able to do so. Going into his senior season, Wilcoxson is one of the players the Ascenders' coaches trust to set the defense. His cerebral play and high football IQ have allowed him to thrive in one of the elite high school programs in the nation, and should allow him to get to the field early in college. His ability to not just play, but understand, multiple secondary spots should allow him the fastest possible route to the field.
Though he is a player that can be an asset in any spot in the secondary, Wilcoxson's best position with the highest ceiling looks to be safety. Wilcoxson has the size to be a big corner, with the speed to run with receivers man-to-man. He can turn his hips and work in coverage well enough to be an asset as an outside corner, and tackles well enough to play the nickel. These things all mean he could be a good corner, but on film, he shows the ability to be a great safety. First, Wilcoxson is simply all over the field on film. He shows up in every quadrant of the field, in every aspect of the game, and he makes plays in them all. While the safety spot has become a bit less specified in free versus strong safeties in recent years, Wilcoxson's excellent cover skills send him leaning toward the free safety role. It is when he is asked to play the deepest portion of the defense, playing centerfield, that he is at his best. Wilcoxson has outstanding speed for a safety. It allows defensive coordinators to comfortably commit their other safety to run support, because Wilcoxson has the speed, instincts, and intelligence to get where he needs to be on the field. Wilcoxson is excellent over-the-top and inside help for his corners when they are facing receivers with elite speed on deep routes. He is also rarely out of a play. He has make up speed that means he can run himself back into position even if he was fooled or a ball goes away from him. In coverage, Wilcoxson is a long safety and a good leaper. He breaks on and high points balls more like a corner. Wilcoxson shows an ability to read and react to a quarterback's eyes, and is aware enough to bait quarterbacks into bad throws, his speed and intelligence allowing him to break on balls for deflections or interceptions. Wilcoxson is also able to take slot receivers in man coverage when asked, showing he can effectively step up and take them in press coverage at the line.
At his free safety spot, Wilcoxson is more than just a cover man. He reads plays well and digests the information presented to him quickly. He shows quick reactions to what he sees, allowing him to supplement his already impressive speed by getting a head start to the ball. This is true in coverage, but it is also true against the run. Wilcoxson is often the deepest defender on the field for IMG, but he regularly comes up to make tackles on running backs. When Wilcoxson reads run, he attacks downhill to get to the ball carrier, but he does not expose himself by being overly aggressive. Wilcoxson's play on film, especially against the run, indicates that he is mindful of being the last line of defense for his team at all times. He takes good angles to ball carriers, he uses the sideline as an extra defender, and positions himself to force a back into his pursuing teammates when he can. While Wilcoxson is capable of delivering the highlight reel, knockout hit, he more often opts for the sure, form tackle. Though less spectacular and less eye-catching, it is the correct option for a player who has missed tackles result in touchdowns. Even playing deep as a free safety, Wilcoxson is an asset in the running game, getting downhill to attack the running back when he can, and often serving as the backside pursuit and defender that cleans up a back that has been slowed.
The Vols secured a commitment from Wilcoxson over offers from Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Florida, Oregon,, Southern Cal, and Ohio State, just to name a few. Wilcoxson is an elite talent in the 2021 class, and a player with a complete toolbox as he enters his senior year in high school. Even with the excellent coaching he has received, Wilcoxson is a player that, on film, looks to have an even higher ceiling as he is developed. He has the talent and size to afford him opportunities at different positions with Tennessee, but he also is a player that can benefit from excellent coaching at a single position. Wilcoxson is a player that will thrive in learning the details of technique as a safety, how he fits into the greater defensive scheme, and how he can learn to manipulate offenses. Wilcoxson will be one of the elite players in the 2021 class for Tennessee, but he arrives in a situation where he can develop and blossom into a player with a far higher ceiling than even his talent warrants.