Tennessee's Jones: Incoming class 'speaks volumes'
FEB 06, 2014 6:28p ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It didn't take long for Tennessee football coach Butch Jones and staff to set up shop in the Music City and surrounding environs.
For the second straight year on the day after National Signing Day, Jones and his Volunteers entourage greeted an overflow crowd of supporters for a "recruiting celebration" luncheon at a downtown Nashville hotel ballroom. Barely two months on the job, he came calling last year to talk of saving his first Tennessee recruiting class that had been ranked 33rd nationally by Scout.com. This time around, Jones brought the news of a recruiting class of 32 signees that was ranked fourth-best in the country.
"They had multiple opportunities all over the country, and they stayed loyal," Jones said of the group of commitments that had collectively been ranked among the top-five recruiting classes, including as high as No. 2, for several months. "The great thing about signing day (Wednesday), there was no drama."
Included in that recruiting haul are 10 signees from Tennessee, featuring eight from Nashville or the middle Tennessee area. That is the most recruits from that region of the state for one Tennessee recruiting class in nearly five decades.
"We talked about actions speaking louder than words," Jones said. "We're the state institution of Tennessee, and we are going to win with Tennessee players."
Of the incoming class, Scout.com ranked 17 Tennessee signees with four stars, most of any program in the country. That included two Nashville-area products -- Station Camp wide receiver Josh Malone (No. 66 overall) and Beech running back Jalen Hurd (No. 75) -- being ranked among the top 100 prospects in the country. Other Volunteers signees from middle Tennessee included Independence athlete Vic Wharton and defensive back Rashaan Gaulden, Brentwood Academy defensive end Derek Barnett, Marshall County kicker Aaron Medley, Ensworth offensive tackle Michael Sawyers and Montgomery Bell Academy defensive tackle Jashon Robertson.
"These are individuals that could have went anywhere in the country," Jones said. "Any school would have taken them with much of our signing class. And they chose to stay at home. I think that speaks volumes for what is going on."
The last commitment of the class came late Tuesday night when Sawyers called Jones to confirm he would sign with the Volunteers. He had originally committed to Vanderbilt, but re-opened his recruiting when former Commodores coach James Franklin was hired at Penn State.
Jones credited Wharton, the first commit of the class, along with Knoxville Webb defensive back Todd Kelly, in keeping the incoming class of commitments intact.
"When we offered (Wharton), we also challenged him to commit in championing the class," Jones said. "And that's exactly what he did. (Wharton and Kelly) really held the class together. ... This is the closest-knit group of individuals in terms of a signing class I have ever been a part of."
In as much, Jones said that more than 90 percent of the signees did not take an official visit to a school other than Tennessee.
NCAA rules allow a school to count only 25 players to a particular recruiting class. Six Volunteers signees can be counted to the 2013 recruiting class, while Jones has also intimated that a recruit or two might be considered a "grayshirt" and delay their enrollment for a semester.
Of the 32 signees, 14 are mid-term enrollees and already attending classes at Tennessee. They will be eligible to participate in spring practice.
"Getting a jumpstart with this signing class and having 14 of these individuals already enrolled in school, that has done so much to our football program," Jones said. "It has brought a sense of energy, a sense of competition, and our older players have really embraced the newcomers. ... When they completed with the 14th player introducing himself (at a team meeting), our current team gave them a standing ovation. That's the things we are building at Tennessee. It is going to be special. It is going to be different.
Coming off a 5-7 record in his debut season that gave the Volunteers an unprecedented fourth-consecutive losing season, Jones warned to not put too much too soon on an incoming class that will be counted upon heavily to fill a variety of needs as starters or key reserves.
"They are still 17- and 18-year-old young adults working to be adults. We're going to develop them," he said. "But I am excited, because they bring a ton of talent to our football team."
While the incoming Tennessee recruiting class was ranked fourth in the nation by Scout.com, it was still one of six Southeastern Conference programs claiming one of the top-10 classes nationally. Tennessee trailed No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 LSU, while leading No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 8 Auburn and No. 9 Tennessee.
Four other SEC schools -- No. 12 Georgia, No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 21 Kentucky and No. 24 Kentucky -- were ranked in the national top 25. Rounding out the ranking of SEC schools included No. 32 Missouri, No. 33 Arkansas, No. 39 Mississippi State and No. 50 Vanderbilt.
"We want individuals to understand what they are representing every time they run on the field at Neyland Stadium," Jones said. "We want individuals to understand the great tradition, all of our great former players, the standard and the expectation that embodies Tennessee football.