Ryan Thaxton has the size and potential to be an immediate lift to Tennessee’s defensive front.
Butch Jones and his coaching staff know this and the Volunteers were able to get the lengthy defensive end to Knoxville for an official visit.
“Man, it’s a great place,” Thaxton told InsideTennessee on Sunday. “Rocky Top is a great place to be at. It’s a great program and the coaches are great. They showed me a lot of love. I liked it and had a good time.
“I didn’t have any expectations coming in. I was just coming in with an open mind, weighing all my options. I enjoyed everything they had to show me.
“There were a lot of commits here. Just talking to the guys, there’s a lot of guys that are like-minded and some good players ready to ball-out next year.”
Thaxton has shown significant interest in some programs closer to his hometown such as Rutgers and Virginia. That hasn’t deterred Tennessee from keeping the foot down.
“When Tennessee offered me, you want to go visit because of the stories behind it,” Thaxton said. “They’ve been after me since my junior year. Even when I committed to UVA, they were still on me. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to give it a chance and I’m going to visit.’”
Tennessee lost three of its top four defensive ends after the 2016 season. Depth is an issue there.
“All the starters at D-end, they’re leaving, graduating,” Thaxton said. “So, it’s an even playing field. Nothing is guaranteed, but if I come in and work hard, I’ve got a chance to earn a spot.”
Defensive line coach Steve Stripling is Tennessee’s primary recruiter of the Alexandria, Virginia, native.
“He’s the one who’s been to my school a bunch of times,” Thaxton said.
The Vols’ top schools in contention to land the St. Stephen’s & St. Angnes School talent are Mississippi and Vanderbilt.
The Scout three-star prospect sized up at 6-feet-5, 230 pounds while in Knoxville.
“I look big, but I’m not that big — for real,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of upside; I can put on a lot of weight. I feel like I can put on a lot.”
What Derek Barnett did as a Volunteer, setting the program’s all-time sack record (33) showed Thaxton a “little bit” about improving under this staff.
“You’ve got somebody that came in and played as a freshman and did something big like that under these coaches,” Thaxton said. “I might can do something special here.”