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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.

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Eddie Jackson Commits To Alabama

Athlete Eddie Jackson from Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., has committed to Alabama.

“I like how the program is run,” Jackson said, per ESPN RecruitingNation. “It’s just everything that they stand for. I can be that guy from Fort Lauderdale, the first guy to come up there and have a chance, a chance to go up there and play.”

Jackson could play on offense or defense at Alabama with the expectation being he’ll play on defense.

“They want me to play defensive back,” said Jackson, who also considered LSU.

Alabama is also in the running for defensive backs Vonn Bell from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Tony Conner from Batesville, Miss. But Bell has shown strong interest in Tennessee and Conner is seriously considering Ole Miss.

Jackson’s commitment gives Alabama 22 commitments for the class of 2013. Signing day is Feb. 6.

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Vonn Bell: My Top Three Remains The Same

Vonn Bell’s list of schools remains the same following an unofficial visit to Tennessee on Saturday.

“It is still Ohio State, Alabama and Tennessee all even at the top, but anything can happen,” Bell told ESPN RecruitingNation. “I still stay in contact with other coaches, too. The win/loss record this year does not have an effect on my decision. It is really about the depth chart, how close I am to the coaches and how well I communicate with them, and if it feels like home.”

It’s good news for Tennessee that Bell doesn’t appear bothered by the team’s win/loss record. The Vols have a 3-4 record this season while Alabama and Ohio State remain unbeaten.

Tennessee’s defense has struggled this season, allowing 2,104 total yards in four SEC games. The Vols have made it clear to Bell that he could make a quick impact on Tennessee’s defense.

“I spoke to coach (Derek) Dooley and the rest of the staff, and they just reiterated that they really need defensive backs,” Bell said. “They made sure to let me know how important I am to the program and where they are trying to get to. The conversations were very normal.”

Bell is ranked the nation’s No. 5 safety by ESPNU.

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Vonn Bell Down To Three Schools

The recruitment of defensive back Vonn Bell from Ridgeland High School in Rossville, Ga., is focused on three schools: Alabama, Tennessee and Ohio State.

Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakas released that list on Saturday morning, according to ESPN RecruitingNation.

Bell said earlier this month he was still considering seven schools, which also included Georgia, Vanderbilt, Clemson and Texas.

Bell said at the time he would like to visit Georgia this fall, which could mean the Bulldogs remain in contention to land ESPNU’s No. 5 safety in the nation.

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SEC Recruiting Headlines 7/2/12

1. Four SEC schools remain in contention for highly-touted safety Vonn Bell.

2. Auburn picked up a commitment from one of the nation’s top kickers.

3. Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin continues to impress recruits.

4. Clemson commit Robert Nkemdiche: “We are about to start a dynasty.”

5. Here are some notes on the NLA 7-on-7 championship event.

6. Athlete Jalen Reeves-Maybin will compete in The Opening in Oregon later this week.

7. Athlete Torrodney Prevot is used to working – on and off the field.

8. 2014 safety Todd Kelly Jr. is continuing to gain national attention.

This is why Vonn Bell is one of the nation’s most highly-touted athletes.

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