Like most other coaches around the country who "get" recruiting, Tennessee's Butch Jones sat in his national signing day War Room, taking advantage of a hectic present to make contacts for the future.
Members of Jones' 2014 recruiting class were officially becoming Volunteers with each chirp of the fax machine, but Jones already was making inroads with underclassmen.
Who can blame the second-year Vols coach for trying to keep his program orange-and-white-hot on the recruiting trail?
The group of 32 players who committed to Tennessee last Wednesday finished ranked seventh by the 247Sports Composite. A '15 class that already boasts seven verbal commitments has reached third on the early rankings.
Identifying, offering, communicating, selling, visiting—recruiting is an endless cycle. The Tennessee brand is burgeoning right now, and the Vols are taking advantage of it.
Next year's class is already off to an incredible start. Let's take a look at a few storylines for 2015.
Those In the Fold
Perhaps the most impressive thing Jones and his staff have done since coming to Knoxville, Tenn., is catch the Vols up in recruiting relationships.
The proof is seven current commits for the '15 cycle, including three Tennessee boys and four players who are considered 4-star talents by 247Sports.
- Lovejoy, Ga., receiver Preston Williams—a 6'5", 205-pound Alabama legacy—has offers from everybody and is already the early jewel of the class.
- Another Atlanta-area prospect, 4-star defensive end Andrew Butcher, already has committed.
- Vicious 4-star Florida linebacker Cecil Cherry is being courted by the "Big Three" along with Ohio State and others, but he seems intent on following in his cousin Tony Thompson's footsteps and playing at UT.
- The Vols need a ton of help on the offensive line, and they've kept two in-state boys at home to address those needs so far. Murfreesboro's Jack Jones is a surging tackle prospect, and Zach Stewart from nearby Coalfield is a hard-nosed interior lineman.
- Finally, Tennessee snagged nearby Maryville High two-way lineman Dylan Jackson, who is a versatile athlete who could grow out of his current position of defensive end.
Signing Top-Flight Quarterback Essential
Tennessee failed to sign a quarterback prospect in the 2014 cycle, so it's imperative that the Vols identify and sign an elite signal-caller.
When UT struck out with prospects such as DeShone Kizer, Jalan McClendon and David Cornwell this year, the Vols didn't push to sign a project. Because of that, quarterback is the most important piece of this year's class, and signing two would be advisable.
UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian told Volquest's Grant Ramey (subscription required) how important signing a QB is moving forward.
Very important. Again, with the depth we have on the team right now, we would like to have added a quarterback, but there's needs at every position. We just felt from an overall numbers standpoint, we could help the team out better by signing some other guys.
Tennessee's top targets for 2015 at the vital position are becoming clearer:
The triumvirate of 6'4", 200-pound speed-burner Torrance Gibson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., 6'6", 230-pound New Mexico product Zach Gentry, and 6'3.5", 190-pound dual-threat QB Jarrett Stidham of Stephenville, Texas, are the primary focus.
Gentry and Gibson seem especially interested in UT presently.
Taking Advantage of Home-Cooking
The Volunteer State was good to the Vols, who kept home eight of the state's top 10 players in the 2014 cycle, and 2015 is another very good year.
Like this year's "Legacy Class," the '15 class has given itself a nickname. Jaylond Woods told Volquest's John Brice and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required) it's calling itself the "Dream Team," and it's already peer recruiting.
UT needs some help in the state this year. While Jones has pledges from three Tennessee boys, none are from 247Sports' top 10. The Vols have major needs at every position the top five prospects play.
Cornerbacks Rico McGraw and Donovan Sheffield haven't shown keen interest in UT yet. McGraw recently committed to Georgia, and Sheffield was a Vanderbilt pledge prior to James Franklin leaving. The Vols want both players.
The biggest need UT has that can be met in-state could come from DE Kyle Phillips—a relentless pass-rusher from Nashville whom the Vols desperately covet. Also, Drew Richmond has the ability to be a franchise left tackle and is a national recruit who has a close friend (Charles Mosley) who committed to UT.
Finally Murfreesboro's Jauan Jennings is being recruited by some teams as a quarterback. The Vols want him as an athlete, but they aren't opposed to playing him at QB.
With other potential stars nearby as well, it's another remarkable and deep pool of talent in-state this year. Tennessee must take advantage of that.
The final question everybody wants to know is, "After signing 32 in 2014, how many can the Vols ink next year?"
It's a question that doesn't currently have a good answer. Jones noted to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) that the staff had a "very simple" plan to over-sign this year and that he'd have to count some players forward.
With a small amount of scholarship seniors set to graduate, the Vols could be looking at a small class. With all the natural attrition expected in the next 12 months, a class of 20-22 players isn't out of the question.
Still, there's no way UT will be signing a massive class again in 2015, so Jones may already be a third of the way toward completing next year's class mere days from signing the last one.
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