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
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,” Rivals.com 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 Rivals.com 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 Rivals.com 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
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.”