No one expected Butch Jones to do this in his first six months as Tennessee’s head coach.
Jones took over the Vols on Dec. 7 following their third straight losing season and fourth in five years. Derek Dooley had just finished a historically bad three-year run as Tennessee’s coach, causing plenty of concern about the program, especially on the recruiting trail.
The concern appears to have been lifted as Tennessee received its 14th commitment for the 2014 class Thursday from defensive end Joe Henderson from Shaker Heights High School in Cleveland, Ohio.
Henderson’s pledge has moved Tennessee to No. 1 in the nation in the Rivals 2014 class rankings. It’s a quick rise for Tennessee, which struggled closing out the 2013 class and finished with the 23rd-best class in the nation, 10th best in the SEC.
Henderson told Volquest.com it was his close relationship with Tennessee’s coaches that led him to pick the Vols.
“Just how the coaches are top of the line coaches under Coach Jones,” Henderson said. “Me getting to know them, I’ve known them for at least two years and they give me advice with anything and help me with anything and we’re still building that relationship. I just noticed how you can just go to them and tell them anything.”
Anything seems possible with Tennessee’s recruiting now that the Vols have taken over the nation’s No. 1 ranking. Of course, Tennessee is helped by the fact it leads the nation with its 14 commitments, tied with Louisville and Texas. Signing day is still eight months away and it will be difficult for Tennessee to keep the top ranking.
But Tennessee’s coaching staff showed in March it planned to make a quick impact in recruiting when it landed commitments from running back Jalen Hurd from Hendersonville, Tenn., safety Todd Kelly Jr. from Knoxville, Tenn., and running back Treyvon Paulk from Alpharetta, Ga.
Tennessee will attempt to use Henderson’s commitment and the No. 1 ranking to create more momentum heading into the summer months.
The Vols continue to be in the mix with several in-state prospects, including athletes Derek Barnett and Rashaan Gaulden and wide receiver Josh Malone. And Tennessee has been able to convince out-of-state recruits to visit Knoxville, helping land commitments from prospects like Henderson, offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr. and cornerback D’Andre Payne.
Tennessee still has a lot of work to do to hold onto its commitments and add to the list, which could grow to 31 signees by February. The Vols will likely have a hard time on the field this fall, which the coaching staff will have to manage on the recruiting trail.
But it’s clear prospects have regained their confidence in Tennessee’s program.
“I can see what they’re going to do and they’re going to build on Tennessee and bring it back to where it’s supposed to be,” Henderson said.
Alabama lands California lineman
Offensive lineman Viane Talamaivao from Centennial High School in Corona, Calif., went public with his commitment to Alabama on Thursday.
Talamaivao actually gave his pledge to the Crimson Tide last week, according to Andrew Bone of Rivals. He chose Alabama over offers from such schools as Ole Miss, Florida State, Miami, Southern California and UCLA.
The news doesn’t come as a surprise. Talamaivao told 247Sports earlier this month that Alabama had established itself as his leader.
“I just love the system they run down there and how successful they have been with offensive linemen as well,” he said. “I am a big believer in the old school style of football, running the ball downhill, and I want to play in that kind of offense and I want to play for a team that produces offensive linemen like that.”
Talamaivao is the first offensive lineman to commit to Alabama, which has 10 commitments in its 2014 class. The Crimson Tide moved up to No. 10 in the Rivals rankings.
Quarterback Watson visits Auburn
Auburn fans had to be excited last week when they found out quarterback Deshaun Watson from Gainesville (Ga.) High School had traveled to town for an unofficial visit.
But the results weren’t so exciting.
Gainesville coach Bruce Miller confirmed to Rivals that Watson, a Clemson commitment, had visited Auburn. But Watson realized after he arrived that he shouldn’t have made the trip.
“He knew it was a mistake,” Miller said. “He told me he knew it was a mistake. He said if he could’ve left Thursday night he would’ve. He knew he made the wrong decision. He said Auburn was nice, but Clemson is nicer.”
Watson tweeted this week that he’s feeling better about his commitment to Clemson. That feeling had to become even stronger after the Tigers received a commitment from highly-touted wide receiver Demarre Kitt, who quickly sent a public word of encouragement to Watson.
Still, there will continue to be speculation about the stability of Watson’s commitment as long as he entertains the idea of visiting other schools. And Watson has already acknowledged he expects to continue to hear from other schools.
“I can’t tell them to stop coming by here,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.”
Allen’s final five includes Aggies
Texas A&M has made the final five for quarterback Kyle Allen from Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Allen, who’s also considering Ohio State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and UCLA, explained his decision to include Texas A&M on his list to ESPN RecruitingNation.
“Another place with awesome facilities. Great coaching staff with (Kevin) Sumlin and (quarterbacks coach Jake) Spavital. Another place with great people and awesome support. Really on the rise and have a great recruiting base. Also would be playing SEC football.”
Texas A&M should benefit in its recruitment of Allen from the success of quarterback Johnny Manziel under Sumlin. It’s clear Allen is looking for a school with a coach who has a proven track record coaching quarterbacks.
Another quarterback to watch for Texas A&M will be Brandon Harris from Bossier City, La.
Harris, who has said he plans to make a decision by July 18, is also considering Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Baylor and Ohio State.
Harris told AggieYell.com earlier this month that he too has been impressed with Texas A&M’s coaching staff.
“Texas A&M is one of the schools that, when they offer, you have to take them seriously,” he said. “They are a top 10 program and are a top team in the SEC with a good offense.”