Jonathan Echols recently envisioned making a relatively early college decision, perhaps shortly after his junior season. But his first visit to Tennessee convinced him that he was ready to pick a school even sooner than expected.
The five-star Class of 2024 edge rusher from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., announced Monday that he has committed to the Vols. He chose Tennessee over scholarship offers from at least 30 other schools — including Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Miami — coming off a three-day visit with the Vols the weekend of June 25.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Echols gave Tennessee its first commitment for the 2024 class. He said he informed Alex Goleshthe Vols’ offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, of his decision a little more than a week ago, shortly after he wrapped up his weekend stay in Knoxville.
“The first person I told was Coach Golesh,” he told GoVols247 before publicly revealing his decision. “He loved it. Just wanted me to be a part of the family, wants to build the class around me.”
Echols is rated a five-star prospect in the industry-generated 247Sports Composite, where he’s ranked the No. 30 overall player and No. 4 athlete in the 2024 class. According to 247Sports’ analysts, he’s a four-star prospect who’s ranked the No. 5 overall player and No. 1 athlete in the 2024 class and the No. 3 rising junior from the state of Florida.
“Me and my family just feel like it’s a great fit for me,” he said. “Being able to talk to Coach G, just him being the OC and my position coach, it’ll just be a great fit for me with him being that.
“And I just loved it — loved everything.”
While Echols had never been to Tennessee’s campus before arriving in Knoxville on June 24, he said the Vols had been recruiting him harder than any other team even before the visit, and they made him feel wanted while he was on campus.
“I felt real loved and just the love from the coaching staff,” he said. “The people around you are great people. The facilities were amazing, and just being able to be around those people, it’s a great fit. Not that far from home.”
Echols played at Heard County High School in Franklin, Ga., during his sophomore season before announcing in late January that he was transferring to powerhouse IMG Academy.
Tennessee extended an offer to him on Dec. 1, and he said the Vols have been talking with him “the most, most definitely,” among the teams pursuing him. He said the way they have been recruiting him was a factor in his decision, but he never expected to be ready to pick a school before the start of his junior season.
“It just kind of hit me with the visit,” Echols said. “Everything just hits me at once.”
He said he likes that the Vols “just have a high-powered offense, being able to use the tight end in a bunch of different ways,” along with “the culture” of their program. He said he’s also excited about “me and Ethan Davis — two tight ends they really wanted — just being able to be on the field at the same time,” referring to Tennessee’s four-star Class of 2023 tight end commitment from Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Ga.
Echols said he met Davis, who was on his official visit with the Vols at the time, during his three-day stay at Tennessee.
Some teams have recruited Echols, who was a two-way standout at Heard County, as a possible defensive end or outside linebacker. But he said he recently has told “most coaches I want to play tight end, so they mostly try to recruit me as a tight end.”
He worked out as a tight end during Tennessee’s Night at Neyland Camp on June 26, and the Vols liked what they saw from him. He said they have made it clear to him why they have stayed in frequent contact with him, led by senior offensive analyst Max ThurmondGolesh, tight ends student coach Alex Fagan and offensive graduate assistant Jack Taylor.
“They think I’m the best player in the country,” Echols said.
With Early Signing Day for the 2024 class still being more than 18 months away, he said he might not be ready to completely shut down his recruitment just yet. But he feels good about his decision.
“I’ll probably still take a couple visits here and there,” Echols said. “I already talked to the coaching staff about it. They just want me to always know where home is.”