In case you haven’t checked the recruiting rankings lately, Butch Jones is reeling in top prospects to the tune of being the No. 1 team on Rivals and the No. 1 overall team on 247Sports’ Composite Rankings.
It’s early in the process, and there’s still nine months to National Signing Day. So, much can change and ultimately will change. That’s recruiting, and it’s inevitable.
After back-to-back 5-7 seasons, the one-time juggernaut of college football has fallen on very hard times. It’s been well documented among the media, and Tennessee fans have rehashed the difficulties since the early 2000s.
But Jones has accepted the role of rebuilding the sleeping giant and attacked it with force and aggression, and the recruiting rankings show the early fruits of his labor.
Tennessee currently has 15 commitments for 2014, the most of any team in college football. Jones has one of the top running backs in the country in five-star Jalen Hurd committed, along with three other four-star players in safety Todd Kelly, CB D’Andre Payne and DE Joe Henderson. That’s a great core nucleus of players around which to build a class.
So, how’s he doing it? How is Tennessee at the top of the recruiting rankings despite being in the doldrums?
Recruiting is really all about creating relationships. It’s relationships with recruits, relationships with parents and family and relationships with high school coaches and programs. And Jones seems to be a people person who can carry on a conversation. It sounds simple, but this is very different than how the Dooley regime operated. Some high school coaches say Dooley never contacted them to build a relationship at all. That’s shocking, but not all that shocking from the outside looking in.
Building a fence
Jones knew upon being hired that he had to take back the state of Tennessee. That’s east, central and west, including Memphis. Derek Dooley’s last class had just three in-state signees in 2012, and Jones already has four in-state commitments, including five-star Mr. Hurd. Jones has been touring endlessly around the state making sure everyone knows this ship is going in a totally different direction that his predecessor. And it’s working.
Jones is creating optimism within the program and certainly around the program. He’s very active on Twitter, and every recruit who has a pulse is active on Twitter. Prospects see the branding, and they hear the chatter of players and projects within the program like ‘VOLympics’. Jones is doing all of this knowing the current prospects haven’t seen ‘winning’ in conjunction with Tennessee, certainly on a national level, since they were just toddlers.
Take a quick trip around Tennessee’s roster, and you will find there are holes for players to step into a starting role immediately. The offensive line is the only position Jones and his staff can feel good about going into this season, but the majority will all be gone in 2014, especially the two massive tackles Tiny Richardson and Ja’Wuan James. Every position in 2014 could be up for grabs. That’s just the reality of the Tennessee roster right now. Recruits see the immediate playing time at a one-time BCS-era national championship SEC program.
Aggression and determination
Jones has sent more than 100 letters to one prospect in this recruiting cycle. He knows he has to be aggressive and get in the game. He’s a determined and tireless recruiter, and he makes sure his staff fully embraces that mentality; otherwise they wouldn’t be a coach at Tennessee.
Vol legacies are prospects who had relatives play at Tennessee. It started last recruiting cycle by flipping then Clemson commit Ryan Jenkins, and it’s carried over into this class. Commits Todd Kelly, Vic Wharton and Neiko Creamer are all Vol legacies, and Tennessee isn’t done. Linebacker Dillon Bates and Eric Berry’s twin brothers are certainly on the radar. Kelly and Wharton have been very instrumental in helping this coaching staff recruit and communicate with different prospects, and it has paid dividends so far.
Knowing ultimate momentum of a program is either won or lost during the season, it was imperative for Jones to make a splash on the recruiting scene immediately.
I guess this evidence of how Jones has been able to accomplish so much in such a little amount of time could be summed up in three words: Not Derek Dooley.
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