Jeremy Pruitt’s goal of making Tennessee a bigger, stronger football team was evident from nearly his first days on the job.

Size was never a huge issues for the defenses Pruitt coordinated at Alabama, Florida State and Georgia, but the defense he inherited at Tennessee didn’t put such a premium on that during the recruiting process, at least at certain positions.

Pruitt has said several times during his first eight months at Tennessee that size and strength were issues that needed to be addressed as soon as possible. Adding some graduate-transfer or junior-college players on the offensive and defensive lines suddenly became a priority, and the Vols had at least modest success in that area.

Emmit Gooden has been one of those success stories. And quite the story it's been.

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Gooden took a circuitous route to Tennessee, and that’s putting it mildly. The West Tennessee native committed to the Vols on Feb. 15, 2014, but he decommitted just 10 weeks later, and then things got really interesting. He committed to Mississippi State the following winter, but academic issues forced him to go the junior college route, and he enrolled at Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss.

Gooden didn’t stay long in Mississippi though. He enrolled the very next semester at Independence Community College in Kansas, and he committed to a third SEC program — Arkansas — on June 16, 2017. He decommitted from the Razorbacks on Nov. 1, 2017, and he visited Arizona State, Louisville, Florida and West Virginia.

Pruitt got the Tennessee job one month after Gooden’s recommitment from Arkansas, though, and he and his staff quickly went to work on getting the Vols back on Gooden’s radar.

Gooden — a visible presence on the most recent season of Netflix’s popular “Last Chance U.” series — visited the Vols on Feb. 2 before committing to and signing with the Vols five days later.

“I was supposed to be at Tennessee,” Gooden told GoVols247’s Ryan Callahan on National Signing Day.

Things weren’t quite home and hosed at that point, but Gooden ultimately improved his academic situation enough to enroll at Tennessee this summer, and now he has a legitimate chance to start in the middle of the Vols’ new-look defensive line this season.

Gooden’s size has, at the very least, provided the Vols with a boost in that area. The plan is for Gooden to become more than just a big body, but Pruitt said that remains an ongoing process.

“He is a big body,” Pruitt said after Friday’s preseason camp opener at Haslam Field. “I think you need big bodies in this league. We don’t have enough, so every one that we can get that knows how to play and kind of knows the intangibles that we want to play with, they’ll help us.

“He’s got a lot to learn and a long ways to go, but we’re glad to have him.”