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SEC Recruiting Notebook: Jones Changing Tennessee’s Perception

sec-recruiting-notebook-gfxTennessee coach Butch Jones inherited a mess when he was hired on Dec. 7.

The Vols had just finished their third straight losing season and fourth in the last five years. At the same time, Tennessee’s 2013 class was hanging around the bottom half of the SEC while its top rivals in the league were preparing to bring in more championship-caliber players.

So it’s no surprise Jones and his staff made the 2014 class a priority before the 2013 class was even signed.

“Recruiting is a relationship business, and you’re trying to work as fast as you can to build those relationships,” Jones said on signing day on Feb. 6.

Jones has had to work even harder because of the damaged relationships between in-state high schools and the previous coaching staff at Tennessee, led by former head coach Derek Dooley.

The Vols failed to sign one of the top five players in the state in 2013. Top-rated prospect Jalen Ramsey (Florida State signee) from Brentwood visited Tennessee but never strongly considered the Vols. Chattanooga safety Vonn Bell signed with Ohio State because Dooley didn’t built a relationship with Bell, according to his father.

Other Tennessee high school coaches claim to have never met Dooley. But they’ve met Jones, and his effort appears to be paying off.

Tennessee received commitments from Webb School of Knoxville safety Todd Kelly Jr. on Sunday and followed that up on Thursday with a pledge from Beech (Hendersonville) High School running back Jalen Hurd, the state’s top-ranked player and the No. 15 overall prospect for the 2014 class, according to Rivals.

Both Hurd and Kelly took closer looks at Tennessee, which has five commitments for 2014, after the coaching change. In fact, the Vols were barely on Hurd’s radar less than four months ago.

“I didn’t have much of a relationship with Coach Dooley or his staff,” Hurd told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press in November.

Jones made sure that changed, letting Hurd know he was a priority shortly after taking over at Tennessee. Another boost for the Vols came on Christmas Day when athlete Vic Wharton from Independence High School in Nashville, Tenn., became Tennessee’s first commitment for the 2014 class.

Wharton has since focused on spreading the word about Tennessee to recruits throughout the state and nation. He’s done so with his twitter account, which is filled with messages promoting the program.


Hurd and Kelly have gotten into the mix as well. Kelly said Monday he would call several prospects to help recruit them to Tennessee. Hurd was one of them.

Will their effort pay off? It’s too early to tell, but Hurd’s commitment on Thursday is an indication the perception of Tennessee’s program is changing. Other prospects are noticing, too.

“It’s changed significantly,” Independence defensive back Rashaan Gaulden said of Tennessee’s perception. “You’ve got some of the top players in the state of Tennessee committing. The vibe has changed there.”

Gaulden has scholarship offers from 12 schools, including Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Florida State has recently shown serious interest, according to Gaulden.

But no one contacts Gaulden as much as Wharton.

“I hear from Vic about (Tennessee) 20 times a day because we go to the same school,” Gaulden said. “He’s nagging me, every minute of every day.”

Gaulden isn’t the only one.


Hamilton set to announce

Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton will announce his college decision on Sunday at Montgomery (Ala.) Carver High School.

Hamilton told ESPN RecruitingNation he wants to finish the recruiting process early so he can focus on his senior year.

“I’m real serious about winning the state title,” he said.

Hamilton is considering Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Tennessee, Southern California and UCLA. Don’t be surprised if it comes down to an Alabama-Auburn battle for Hamilton’s services, according to ESPN.

“Both of those schools are the in-state schools,” he said. “I’ve built a relationship with both coaching staffs. Both of them are close to home, and the in-state rivalry, it doesn’t get any better than that.”


Barker has SEC interest

Add Auburn to the list of SEC schools interested in quarterback Drew Barker from Conner High School in Burlington, Ky.

But the Tigers will have to decide soon if their interest warrants a scholarship offer.

Barker, who told Rivals he’s strongly considering offers from Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee, said Auburn coaches have indicated they will observe him throw in person this spring before making a decision on an offer.

Barker, who committed Thursday to play in the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, told Rivals he will visit Auburn if the Tigers offer him a scholarship.

“Coach (Gus) Malzahn) and his offense fits my skill set,” Barker said. “I think I could excel in that offense and that’s the offense I’m looking to play in at the next level. That’s all we run is the spread, with zone read.”

Barker plans to make his college decision by the end of May, according to Rivals.


Get ‘em in early

Georgia’s 2013 class benefited greatly from the 13 signees who opted to enroll early. Their arrivals in January helped the Bulldogs sign 33 prospects last month.

Georgia coach Mark Richt certainly isn’t complaining about the extra spring he will have with the 13 early enrollees.

“It takes work and planning to be ready to go at the midyear,” Richt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It takes a lot of support from the family, from the school themselves and even our administration. So the guys that actually went through the process and got it done, they seem to be more responsible than maybe some of the other freshmen that have come in past years, by virtue of the fact that they had a plan and they executed that plan.”

Plan on seeing more coaches encourage prospects to get to college as soon as they’re able to do so. But Richt is right. It takes a lot of responsibility for a student-athlete to get his work done to be able to graduate high school early.



Really excited with the way the Tennessee coaches and the committed recruits are pushing for more recruits to take a good look at Knoxville.  Haven't been this excited about the future of the Vols program in years.  GBO



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