Even before James Franklin bolted from Vanderbilt for Penn State, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones had placed a big orange padlock on in-state recruiting.
According to 247Sports, the Volunteers already had secured six of the state's top 10 players prior to Franklin's departure, and when Jashon Robertson flipped to UT from the Commodores last week, that number swelled to seven.
With the Vols riding the wave of momentum from having a top national recruiting class and new VU coach Derek Mason scrambling to get started, they have a golden opportunity to keep control of state recruiting in a big way.
That's the perfect scenario for Jones entering a 2015 recruiting cycle where the state of Tennessee has a deeper talent pool than it has in some time.
|Year||Top 247 (# committed to UT)||4-stars (# committed to UT)||State's top 10 prospects committed to UT|
|2012||5 (1)||8 (1)||1|
|2013||7 (2)||8 (2)||3|
|2014||5 (4)||7 (5)||7|
|2015||6 (0)||9 (0)||0|
A state not historically known for producing tons of talent has been enjoying a surge recently. While Tennessee's talent pool still isn't strong enough to be able to build an entire SEC-caliber class within state lines, it must be a place where the Vols build the foundation of their class each year.
There's no better example of that than this season and next.
"There's definitely more talent coming out of the state of Tennessee than ever before, especially in the Nashville area," GoVols247 recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan said. "The overall pool of talent is deeper, and there seems to be elite talent at the top of every class.
"It wasn't that long ago that it would have been almost unheard of for the state of Tennessee to produce three players as good as Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone and Todd Kelly in the same class."
The Vols' sixth-ranked recruiting class of 34 players in this year's cycle features nine players from the Volunteer State. The wealth of talent close to home and the bevy of legacies provided the first-year coaching staff a ready-made core to a banner recruiting year.
But another massive opportunity awaits UT in '15. Already, the Vols' eight-man recruiting class for next year's cycle includes four in-state players (OT Jack Jones, ATH Jaylond Woods, OG Zach Stewart and DL Dylan Jackson).
None of those, however, are among 247Sports' top 10 players from Tennessee.
The state's top-ranked player for 2015, Rico McGraw, surprisingly chose Georgia this week, according to The Tennessean's Maurice Patton, but the remaining nine are uncommitted.
The Vols have positioned themselves well with several of those players, and if they just land half of them, it would mean nearly half of UT's 2015 class, expected to reach just 20-22 players, would be homegrown.
While McGraw's commitment to Georgia is an early blow to UT's goal to keep elite players home, there are plenty of opportunities for Jones to meet major needs—starting with defensive end Kyle Phillips, athlete Jauan Jennings and offensive tackle Drew Richmond.
Considering UT has ace recruiter Tommy Thigpen assisting another up-and-coming recruiting star in tight ends coach Mark Elder scouting the state, it's evident Jones is putting a priority on keeping kids at home.
Couple that with a pesky Vanderbilt program that had stolen commits from UT in recent years struggling to fill a shell of a class in the wake of Franklin's departure, and the Vols simply must capitalize.
It's the perfect opportunity for UT to make in-state commits forget the Vols have lost consecutive games to the Commodores.
Of course, the biggest boost UT can get to aid them in the recruitment of any player is to start winning football games. If Jones' salesman skills are backed by actual, tangible evidence of on-field growth, UT's recruiting will take off.
Breaking through with some wins is crucial to keeping other national programs from poaching Tennessee kids as well.
Another huge X-factor working in Jones' favor in recruiting within state lines is the fact that this year's group of Tennessee boys have done an excellent job of peer recruiting. Guys like Vic Wharton, Hurd and Kelly jumped on board early and then helped the coaching staff lure their buddies.
State pride became a major selling point facilitated by the 2014 recruits. It's already being echoed by '15 prospects like offensive tackle commit Jack Jones.
Everything is setting up for Butch Jones to capitalize on the state's surge in talent and keep the recruiting momentum going.
The work he has done in-state this year coupled with Franklin heading north has opened the door for a big in-state haul for the Vols at the perfect time. If Jones can stay hot at home, it'll make rebuilding the program much easier.
All recruiting information provided by 247Sports, unless otherwise noted. Quotes obtained firsthand.