KNOXVILLE — Any time there is uncertainty, coaching hot lists and recruiting is a huge topic of discussion.
For Tennessee, as the season has unfolded with losses to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Kentucky, the widespread talk of fifth-year head coach Butch Jones’ future on Rocky Top is uncertain.
The Vols recently have suffered three decommitments from their 2018 class, resulting in a cloud also hanging over 5-star offensive lineman and local commit Cade Mays. He will visit Ohio State this weekend, Clemson the weekend of Nov. 18, Tennessee the weekend of Nov. 25, Notre Dame the weekend of Dec. 9 and Georgia the weekend of Dec. 16.
The early signing period is Dec. 20-22. Who knows what the Vols’ coaching situation will be then. Their 2018 class has slipped recently to No. 11 in the nation but still is No. 3 in the SEC.
Tennessee is one of those places that sells itself and can attract talented prospects based on the atmosphere, campus, city and facilities.
One example is Class of 2020 prospect Dawson Ellington, an emerging all-around player who plays both running back and corner back from Marietta (Ga.) High School. Ellington took in his second Tennessee game of the 2017 season when the Vols defeated Southern Miss 24-10 on Homecoming 2017. Ellington also attended the Chick-fil-A Kickoff kickoff game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta when the Vols defeated the Yellow Jackets 42-41 in double-overtime.
Despite the 2017 season taking a turn for the worst, the Vols currently hold commitments from 5 of the top 10 in-state prospects and eight of the top 25 players in the 2018 class (247Sports).
Jones’ recruiting success has been centered around him finding players early before they are offered by other marque programs – and then other schools follow suit and come along with offers.
Jones was the first SEC coach to offer the rising sophomore Ellington on May 22. Only Louisville and Florida Atlantic offered before.
Soon after Jones’ offer, LSU offered on May 26. Then Alabama did so on June 4.
Ellington is now up to 10 offers that also include Auburn, Louisville Michigan, Ole Miss, Syracuse and UCLA.
The 5-11, 184-pound listed athlete (247Sports) told Saturday Down South that “it really doesn’t matter to me” where he plays on the field, he just wants to play.
Ellington is the type of player that wants to be on the field at all times, whether playing running back, corner back or special teams going after opposing players on kickoffs.
“I just want to be on the field, I like to go right at people,” he said of his desire to play any position in college.
“Tennessee was the first to offer,” Ellington said of receiving SEC offers and speaking highly of Tennessee’s program.
Being a sophomore and having two high school seasons remain past 2017, he said that as of “right now I am not scheduled to take any official visits” as he has taken unofficial visits to Tennessee (Nov. 4), Auburn (Sept. 30) and attended an Alabama camp on June 4.
Ellington will begin to take official visits as an upperclassmen next year.
Playing high school football in the heart of Georgia and Georgia Tech territory, and with other schools taking notice of his potential, Tennessee still stands out to him.
Ellington says that the Vols’ Anderson Training Center is a reason he thinks highly of the program and also Neyland Stadium is an attraction to him.
Ellington’s communication with Jones and the Volunteer program dates to his eighth grade year.
“I spoke with him (Jones) at Junior Day after my 8th grade season. I spoke with Coach (Tommy) Thigpen when they offered me,” he said. “I like the program overall, the facilities – I really like the school.”
Even if first-year Tennessee athletics director John Currie elects to move on from Jones as head coach, Ellington says that Tennessee “is still looking pretty good” for him.
With the season not going like how Tennessee fans would have liked it to go, an empty Neyland Stadium movement was discussed on social media to try and take a stand in calling for Currie to make a head coaching change. But Vol fans still packed Neyland Stadium with an announced attendance of 95,551, showing that on game day they still turn out and support the program through thick and thin.
That support from UT fans stood out to Ellington on his visit. “The atmosphere, the crowd stands out,” he said. “It’s Homecoming and it looks good to me.”