Jones’ arrival changes look of Vols’ signing class

Butch Jones hasn’t coached his first game at Tennessee yet, but

he already has received his first taste of the rough-and-tumble

world of Southeastern Conference football.

Jones’ staff rallied late to get Tennessee a recruiting class

ranked in the top 30 nationally Wednesday by most services, yet

those same services also had this class in the bottom half of the


”Everything is competitive in the SEC,” Jones said. ”Every

day you go to work, it’s fourth-and-1 for the Super Bowl. Our

coaches understand it.”

Only nine of the 21 recruits in this class had committed to

Tennessee before the Vols hired Jones away from Cincinnati on Dec.

7. Eight players who committed to Tennessee under former coach

Derek Dooley switched to other schools after he was fired.

Eight members of Tennessee’s class were previously committed

elsewhere. That list includes tight end A.J. Branisel (Cincinnati),

defensive end Malik Brown (Syracuse), quarterback Joshua Dobbs

(Arizona State), athlete Malik Foreman (Vanderbilt), wide receiver

Ryan Jenkins (Clemson), athlete Lemond Johnson (Auburn), running

back Jabo Lee (East Carolina), offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman

(Cincinnati). Brown and Dobbs made Signing Day switches.

”A lot of times when you’re late in the process, you tend to

maybe offer scholarships out there and you look back in time and

wish you would have kept,” Jones said. ”We were extremely

selective in the process. We had a formula for the type of player

we needed to attract here in Knoxville.”

The Vols hoped to add more star power this week.

Vonn Bell, a consensus five-star defensive back who plays for

Rossville (Ga.) Ridgeland but lives in Chattanooga, Tenn.,

announced Wednesday he had chosen Ohio State over Tennessee.

247Sports national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons noted that

Bell had grown up a Tennessee fan.

”I think there’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Simmons said. ”That

one stings.”

Other near misses included consensus five-star defensive end

Carl Lawson as well as linebacker E.J. Levenberry. Both considered

Tennessee late in the recruiting season before sticking to their

original commitments, as Lawson signed with Auburn and Levenberry

chose Florida State.

”In the short time since he was hired, they became finalists

for a lot of good prospects,” national recruiting

analyst Mike Farrell said. ”That in itself will lead to some

momentum next year.”

This class should fill holes in the passing game that were

created when quarterback Tyler Bray and wide receivers Cordarrelle

Patterson and Justin Hunter chose to enter the NFL Draft after

their junior seasons. Their departures had left Tennessee’s roster

with only two scholarship quarterbacks and without any wideouts who

caught more than 13 passes last year.

Dobbs, rated a four-star recruit by most services, threw for

3,625 yards and 29 touchdowns while also rushing for 419 yards and

10 touchdowns last fall at Alpharetta (Ga.) High. Riley Ferguson

was the quarterback for two state championship teams at Matthews

(N.C.) Butler. MarQuez North, rated by as the nation’s

No. 2 receiving prospect, was one of four wideouts to sign with


”Trent Dilfer is a great friend of mine and he texted me and

said, `We feel you have the best recruiting class in terms of

quarterbacks in the country,’ ” Jones said.

The Vols’ challenge in future recruiting classes is to keep

Tennessee’s best high school players.

Tennessee signed one of the top 25 prospects in the state of

Tennessee as rated by last year. This year, the Vols

signed only one of the top six prospects in the state according to

the 247 Composite, which averages the ratings of all the major

recruiting services. The highest-rated player from the state to

sign with the Vols was Memphis White Station defensive end Jason


”We have to own the state of Tennessee,” Jones said. ”We’re

the one institution that says Tennessee. We have to own our state.

There’s an onus on us to recruit the state and an onus on those

prospective student-athletes to want to come to Tennessee and

represent their state.”

That will become one of Tennessee’s biggest tasks as it puts

together its 2014 class while trying to reverse the fortunes of a

program that has produced three straight losing seasons.

”I think the 2014 class will be – you hate to say it – but a

make-or-break class,” Farrell said. ”Everybody in the SEC gets

three years. If you don’t do well in three years, you’re gone. In

three years, you’ve got to get it done. That means your first full

recruiting class is the most important one. 2014 will tell the tale

for them on the recruiting trail.”

Jones’ staff believes they will benefit from having a full year

to recruit.

Jones took over Tennessee’s program just two months ago. He

didn’t formally name any assistants until mid-December, giving this

staff little time to complete its recruiting class. Linebackers

coach Tommy Thigpen said it was like trying to erase a 28-0 deficit

with five minutes left in the game.

”We’ve got a great head coach, and he’s a great closer,”

Thigpen said. ”We just ran out of time. I think next year when

we’ve got 365 days… it’s going to make a difference.”