Alex Golesh has hit the ground running on the recruiting trail since taking over at Tennessee, and one of the prospects he has quickly prioritized is Madison Central (Miss.) tight end Blake Gunter, one of the nation's best prospect at the position.
"I would say Tennessee, Ole Miss, Florida State, Liberty, Coastal Carolina, Memphis, and West Virginia," Gunter said of the teams recruiting him the hardest.
The home state program in Oxford used the tight end at a high level under Lane Kiffin last fall, and it is something that stood out to Gunter.
"Ole Miss, their offense is very super creative, which I think is cool. That's one of my biggest criteria; as you know, I want to play for an offensive mastermind who can scheme defenses up, and I think that they can do that. Like coach Kiffin can do that, but I also think this new staff at Tennessee will be able to do it too," Gunter said.
The connection within the offense's at Tennessee and UCF are obvious, and it is something that Gunter has already heard from Tennessee's new offensive Coordinator Alex Golesh.
"It's funny because the other night, while I was talking to coach Golesh, he kind of told me about how he knows Coach Lebby, the offensive coordinator at Ole miss because he's from UCF, and he kind of said, you know what you saw this year from Ole miss and their offense," Gunter told VR2 on SI. "That's similar to what you're going to see from us because we kind of have the same philosophy as far as offense."
Gunter's relationship with Tennessee's staff dates back to his time at UCF.
"They had offered me from there—coach Golesh. I had kind of already known him. I really like him," Gunter said. "When he got to Tennessee, he made sure to get me on the phone and let me know that he wanted me there. We talked for a while, and then, Thursday night, we did the zoom call with all the new coaching staff."
The Tennessee staff hosted a zoom call for multiple targets last week. "They called it the Heup House. It was basically the whole coaching staff with some of their top guys just introducing themselves and outlining their vision for the future, which was really cool to get on there and just kind of meet everyone. It was different because, most of the time, I feel like when I talked to other schools, I'm usually just talking one on one with the coach, but this time it was the whole staff. And not only just me but a bunch of other top guys. So it gave it more of an in-person feel," Gunter said.
The versatile pass-catcher is impressed with Tennessee's new offensive coordinator and his track record developing tight ends.
"He's coached some pretty great tight ends. I know that he's an expert in his position and knows what to look for when watching film. And he says from watching my film that I have a chance to be one of the greats like those guys. I really love the fact that he's the offensive coordinator, as well as the Tight ends coach," Gunter said. "Most of the time, the offensive coordinator would just be the QB's coach, but I think it's quite interesting and different how he's the tight ends coach. That obviously gives away that it's a very tight end friendly offense, which is big for me.
What makes Gunter a solid fit for Tennessee's tight end room?
"He explained to me basically that his favorite thing about me is that I'm extremely versatile. If you watch a lot of tight ends, especially high school tight ends film, you either get one or the other, you get the offensive lineman, or you get basically a receiver, but I feel like I can do both equally well. He was really impressed with how I can block in the box and go out wide and win one-on-one match-ups and beat safeties and linebackers," Gunter said on the message from Golesh.
Former Madison Central star Jimmy Holiday is now on Tennessee's roster, and Gunter has been able to learn a little bit about Knoxville from him.
"I follow him on social media and things, so I see everything he posts. I know that he thinks it's an extremely cool place and likes it up there. Just kind of the things that I see that he posts. I know that Knoxville seems like a really cool place," Gunter said. "He kind of jokes around with me, you know, as you would imagine, about me coming up there. We went to the same high school, and if you turn on my sophomore film and you see the quarterback throwing me the ball, that's him. He's definitely, a great teammate and guy to have on your team, so that would be pretty cool to reunite."
Gunter continues to work through his recruitment at his on pace, and he offered up some insight about his timeline.
"I really don't have much of a time frame. Obviously, it kinda stinks not being able to go places, but I'm pretty confident I'll just be able to feel whatever is the place for me and feel when the time is right," Gunter said. "So I'm just kind of waiting on whenever the time's right, and I feel like I have the right idea. I'm just going to go with my gut."
The town kind of plays a factor because that's where I'm going to be living for the next four years or even possibly more years than that. One of the biggest things for me is I want to meet the coaches and make sure that they're good genuine people because you know there's a lot of coaches nowadays that will tell you what you want to hear," Gunter said on his major factors. "I want to play for a coaching staff that's genuine, and they're just a good group of guys. Other than that, as I said earlier, they got to be a tight end friendly offense because not everybody uses the tight ends, and I want to play for an offensive mastermind, somebody that can truly scheme people up."
When the time comes, what kind of player will one of these schools get in Gunter. "I think they're going to get someone who can do a whole lot of things and somebody that can create a whole lot of mismatches on the offensive side of the ball," he said when asked. "I can line up at tight end, and I can create movement in the run game, but also I can go out wide and win the one-on-one match-ups. So, I think I'm going to be really hard for defenses to account for being that versatile."
Between now and getting to college, Gunter will play his senior season at Madison Central, and he is looking to improve his game even more.
"I think from my sophomore to junior year, I got a lot more physical. Just in the box blocking and everything and putting people on their backs. I want to take that to another level this year," Gunter said on what he wants to improve. "I want to be physical blocking, but also, one of the things I probably want to improve on the most is my yards after the catch. I wouldn't say that my run after the catch is amazing, so that's probably one of the main things I'll focus on. I understand that being a tight end, that's it's a mindset that you got to have is being dominant after the catch."