Tennessee Football Recruiting: 12 Commits and Targets to Watch at The Opening

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistJune 12, 2014

Tennessee Football Recruiting: 12 Commits and Targets to Watch at The Opening

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    Vols legacy Kahlil McKenzie is supposed to choose between Tennessee and Arizona during The Opening.
    Vols legacy Kahlil McKenzie is supposed to choose between Tennessee and Arizona during The Opening.247Sports

    Nike's prestigious The Opening training and competition event is rapidly approaching, and the Tennessee Volunteers have two commitments and several top prospects participating. 

    Under head coach Butch Jones, the Vols are recruiting at the nation's highest level.

    As a result, many of the top players on their board will be among the 162 elite high schoolers who have received invitations to compete in the July 5-10 event in Beaverton, Oregon.

    Two current UT commitments were selected by Student Sports following in-person evaluations at one of the nationwide events, according to the event website. Linebacker Cecil Cherry and wide receiver Preston Williams earned their invitations to compete against the nation's best.

    The Vols are hoping another class catalyst in Kahlil McKenzie, who is scheduled to make his announcement July 10 at The Opening, chooses Knoxville as his future home.

    Numerous other recruits with UT among their favorites will be worth watching as well. Let's take a closer look at 12 participants whom Tennessee covets.

Preston Williams, 5-Star WR

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    Tennessee picked up one of the jewels of the class in September when Preston Williams pledged.
    Tennessee picked up one of the jewels of the class in September when Preston Williams pledged.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Lovejoy High School (Hampton, Georgia)

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 200 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Tennessee

    Preston Williams earned his invitation to The Opening via a strong performance at Atlanta's Nike SPARQ Combine, according to AL.com's Mike Herndon.

    The nation's top receiver in the 2015 class, according to the 247Sports rankings, surprisingly committed to UT in September of 2013. Since then, college football's top teams have pursued the Alabama legacy, but he has stayed firm.

    He told Volquest's Rob Lewis (subscription required) this week at the Rivals 5-Star Challenge that UT is "home." Though Rivals only has Williams as a 4-star prospect, he is impressing with his body control and all-around game, according to 247Sports' JC Shurburtt.

    As the nation's top pass-catcher, he really has nothing left to prove. He just needs to keep impressing at the national camps and maintain his lofty ranking. His junior Hudl film is nothing short of special, and he has a complete game even if he isn't the fastest receiver.

    UT will have to work to keep him committed, but Williams seems firm. Having an elite talent like him in the fold should help Tennessee stick in the minds of other recruits at The Opening.

Cecil Cherry, 3-Star ILB

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    Legacy linebacker Cecil Cherry is another early commitment for Butch Jones who appears to have a bright future.
    Legacy linebacker Cecil Cherry is another early commitment for Butch Jones who appears to have a bright future.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Frostproof High School (Frostproof, Florida)

    Height/Weight: 6'1", 219 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Tennessee

    According to Student Sports' Todd Huber, Cecil Cherry earned his invitation to the event at Orlando's Nike camp. He was named by 247Sports' Kipp Adams (subscription required) as one of the top performers there, winning MVP honors at linebacker.

    Cherry has been lauded throughout the recruiting process for his fierce mentality and leadership skills. At last week's Sound Mind Sound Body camp, he won MVP again, and 247Sports' Josh Newberg noted: "Cherry was the unit’s top performer and leader. Throughout the drills Cherry would frequently be first in line, get his rep in and then help instruct the other linebackers in the drills."

    Many of the nation's top programs have come after the defender, who elected back on June 14 of last year to follow in his cousin Tony Thompson's footsteps and play for the Vols. 

    Cherry's Hudl film proves he is a hard hitter and talented defender. But he isn't as highly rated as some others at the event, likely because of his lack of ideal middle linebacker size and lateral quickness.

    He will have the opportunity to prove he can hang with the nation's best, and the Vols will benefit from his vocal presence at the camp.

Kahlil McKenzie, 5-Star DT

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    If UT can land Kahlil McKenzie, it will go a long way toward guaranteeing yet another strong recruiting class.
    If UT can land Kahlil McKenzie, it will go a long way toward guaranteeing yet another strong recruiting class.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Clayton Valley Charter School (Concord, California)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 330 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted 

    He is expected to announce his decision between Tennessee and Arizona at The Opening on July 10. UT is an overwhelming favorite (97 percent) to land him, according to the 247Sports Crystal Ball. NFL.com's Mike Huguenin wrote about how Butch Jones is taking nothing for granted in going hard after the UT legacy.

    A 5-star prospect and the nation's seventh-ranked defensive tackle (No. 35 overall), Kahlil McKenzie earned his invitation at Oakland's Nike camp, where he had one of the most talked-about performances of the spring/summer circuit so far. He was named the defensive line MVP, according to SB Nation's Wescott Eberts:

    McKenzie was dominant throughout the event with his pure strength, much of it generated from his massively strong lower body. And despite weighing in at 330 pounds, McKenzie wasn't carrying any bad weighthe looks exactly like a defensive tackle should look. At times, it just didn't look fair to ask other prospects to go against him in the one-on-one drills.

    McKenzie will have the opportunity to build off that performance and continue to show his elite skills in Oregon as he vies to become the nation's top DT. 

    He reportedly won't be attempting that for one of the most dominant programs in the nation at Concord De La Salle. According to Maxpreps' Mitch Stephens, McKenzie plans to transfer to Clayton Valley Charter. 

    Stephens wrote that "a debate whether Kahlil should attend Nike's 'The Opening' summer camp was at the heart of a small rift" that caused him to transfer.

Drew Richmond, 4-Star OT

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    In-state offensive tackle Drew Richmond is arguably the top offensive target left on UT's board.
    In-state offensive tackle Drew Richmond is arguably the top offensive target left on UT's board.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Memphis University School (Memphis, Tennessee)

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 320 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted

    He is expected to announce his college decision on Sept. 9, though he admitted to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required) he is torn. Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn and Ohio State are believed to be high on his list. Tennessee holds a 46 percent to 38 percent edge over OSU in the Crystal Ball predictions.

    AL.com's Matt Scalici noted that Drew Richmond received his invitation to The Opening with a strong performance at the Nike camp in Hoover, Alabama, outside Birmingham.

    Richmond did not win offensive line MVP of the camp; that went to Alabama pledge Lester Cotton.

    Without question, Richmond is Tennessee's top offensive line target and is the nation's sixth-ranked offensive tackle prospect in the 247Sports rankings. He is an elite prospect with the size, strength and athleticism to be a star on the next level, as his Hudl film shows.

    The Opening will give him the chance to put to rest any concerns about his punch at the point of attack against the nation's top defensive ends.

    UT hopes Richmond and Georgia commit Rico McGraw decide to flip the script and stay home to play for the Vols.

Van Jefferson, 4-Star WR

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    Butch Jones desperately wants to keep receiver Van Jefferson from escaping state borders.
    Butch Jones desperately wants to keep receiver Van Jefferson from escaping state borders.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Ravenwood High School (Brentwood, Tennessee)

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 176 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted

    Ohio State still has most of the support for his signature on the Crystal Ball, but the Vols have been surging recently and could be the team to beat. Georgia also is a strong contender.

    The son of Tennessee Titans wide receivers coach Shawn Jefferson is the nation's 18th-ranked wide receiver prospect, according to 247Sports, and he'll try to move up that list in July.

    He earned his invitation to the event with an MVP performance in the Hoover camp, according to StudentSports.com.

    That showing was part of a camp circuit that helped Jefferson move up to No. 100 overall in the 247Sports rankings. As national recruiting analyst Barton Simmons (subscription required) noted, Jefferson added weight and strength to already being one of the nation's top route-runners.

    While it's difficult to improve a lack of top-end speed, he needs to work on his hands. Going up against elite corners is going to be a major proving ground, and the Brentwood product has to show he can use route running to his advantage.

    Jefferson is a major target at wide receiver for the Vols.

Quarte Sapp, 4-Star OLB

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    Atlanta-area outside linebacker Quarte Sapp would go a long way toward addressing UT's needs in this class at the position.
    Atlanta-area outside linebacker Quarte Sapp would go a long way toward addressing UT's needs in this class at the position.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Milton High School (Alpharetta, Georgia)

    Height/Weight: 6'2", 203 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted, but Tennessee and Miami appear to be in the driver's seat currently. The Vols are an overwhelming 89 percent favorite to land his commitment, according to the Crystal Ball.

    StudentSports.com's Todd Huber noted that Quarte Sapp won the linebacker MVP honors at the Atlanta NFTC camp, which earned him an invitation to The Opening.

    The tall, rangy linebacker definitely needs to add weight to play at the next level, but he has an elite frame and the athletic skills and speed to grow into an excellent SEC second-level force.

    The biggest thing for Sapp at The Opening is going to be proving that he can play with the level of physicality necessary to be considered among the nation's elite.

    Can he beat linemen at the point of attack and get to the quarterback? He will need to answer that question.

Torrance Gibson, 5-Star QB

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    It will be interesting to see how this week's commitment of Quinten Dormady affects 5-star Torrance Gibson's interest in Tennessee.
    It will be interesting to see how this week's commitment of Quinten Dormady affects 5-star Torrance Gibson's interest in Tennessee.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): American Heritage High School (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

    Height/Weight: 6'4", 200 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted

    Tennessee and Auburn have been battling for Torrance Gibson's services, but he isn't expected to decide anytime soon. Ohio State, Miami and others also are in the picture.

    The nation's top-ranked dual-threat quarterback has plenty to prove at The Opening—like the fact that he can play signal-caller at the next level.

    Even though he threw for 1,864 yards as a junior with 19 touchdowns and three interceptions and rushed for 1,032 yards with 10 more touchdowns, some colleges aren't sure. He is being recruited by some to play wide receiver.

    He earned his invitation (as a quarterback) at the Miami Nike Training Camp, according to the Sun Sentinel's Andrew Ivins:

    The tale of Gibson's recruitment has taken a twist after he led American Heritage to a Class 5A state title last season. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound athlete has spent a majority of the offseason playing wide receiver, raising questions about which position he will line up at in college. Ohio State, Tennessee, Miami, and LSU have all offered Gibson as a quarterback, but some feel Gibson might be better suited at wide receiver.

    With UT picking up a quarterback commitment this week in Quinten Dormady, it will be interesting to see how hotly the Vols pursue Gibson moving forward. But UT currently leads.

    It's difficult to turn down a speedy athlete like Gibson, and his ability to play quarterback is a huge bonus.

Tim Settle, 5-Star DT

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    UT was the early leader for Tim Settle until a recent trip to Clemson catapulted the Tigers to the top.
    UT was the early leader for Tim Settle until a recent trip to Clemson catapulted the Tigers to the top.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Stonewall Jackson High School (Manassas, Virginia)

    Height/Weight: 6'3", 318 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted

    Clemson has surged into the lead, according to a tweet from Settle on Sunday, replacing UT. Florida State, Alabama, Virginia and Virginia Tech also are on the list.

    The Washington Post's Tariq Lee reported that Tim Settle earned his invitation to The Opening via a strong performance at the NFTC camp at Centreville, Virginia. 

    Though he didn't win the MVP award (that went to Adam McLean), Settle impressed. Lee noted in a separate story that the Stonewall Jackson lineman gave offensive participants "fits."

    "[Settle] possesses a quick first step," Lee wrote, "but he suffered a slight leg injury in the morning session and pushed through that with a level of power that was unmatched at the NFTC."

    When he applies himself, he's a terror, but 247Sports analysts aren't certain about his work ethic, giving his motor a "7" rating on his profile. Still, he has all the intangibles to be a NFL talent.

    Here is a package of his Hudl highlights. With Settle fighting through an injury to earn this invitation, it proves he is working hard to be known as one of the best. Oregon will give him another opportunity to prove he is worthy of a 5-star rating.

    His recruitment has been all over the map, and the Vols hope to stay in the race for his commitment until the end.

Bryce Love, 4-Star RB

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    North Carolina's Bryce Love is probably Tennessee's best hope of signing an elite running back in 2015.
    North Carolina's Bryce Love is probably Tennessee's best hope of signing an elite running back in 2015.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Wake Forest-Rolesville High School (Wake Forest, North Carolina)

    Height/Weight: 5'9", 180 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted

    Tennessee, Stanford, East Carolina, North Carolina, Florida, North Carolina State and South Carolina are all players for Love. His brother currently plays for ECU. 

    Speed is the name of Love's game, and that's why the nation's sixth-ranked all-purpose back has offers from the nation's elite.

    With the recent commitment of Alvin Kamara to UT, it remains to be seen how high of a priority Love is to the Vols, but due to his elite speed, they will likely pursue him.

    He told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan recently he was high on UT. Kipp Adams of 247Sports also named Love one of the 15 most explosive players in this class.

    He is electrifying, but he has proved inconsistent. Student Sports reporter Todd Huber wrote, "After a hot and cold Charlotte NFTC, Love was at his best at the DC NFTC...[He] impressed from the time testing started (122 SPARQ Rating) until the end, taking home RB MVP Honors and a ticket to the nation's top high school football event."

    The Tar Heel State product needs to put those worries to rest.

Josh Sweat, 5-Star DE

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    Tennessee is in the running for the nation's No. 1 weak-side defensive end Josh Sweat.
    Tennessee is in the running for the nation's No. 1 weak-side defensive end Josh Sweat.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Oscar Smith High School (Chesapeake, Virginia)

    Height/Weight: 6'5", 237 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Uncommitted; he's considering Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon, Virginia Tech and Tennessee. Georgia, FSU and Virginia Tech are the probable favorites.

    There are few more impact defensive playmakers in the 2015 class than Josh Sweat.

    He is the 247Sports Composite's No. 2 overall player in the nation, and Tennessee has a legitimate chance to earn his commitment. Rivals.com's Adam Friedman tweeted that UT, UGA, Virginia Tech, OSU and FSU are currently Sweat's top five.

    He also made Kipp Adams' list of the top 15 explosive players in the class, and for good reason.

    He earned his invitation at the Charlotte Nike Combine, according to Student Sports' Todd Huber, who posted the player's eye-popping numbers, which were at the time of Sweat's camp, the top score: "Sweat posted a combine-best and high so far on the tour this year 128.31 SPARQ rating on the strength of a 4.59 40 [yard dash], 4.09 shuttle, 35.5-inch vertical jump and 40-foot power ball toss."

    About the only thing left for him to prove is that he's the nation's top-ranked overall player, an honor that currently belongs to Georgia defensive tackle Trent Thompson. 

Mook Reynolds, 4-Star Cornerback

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    Virginia Tech cornerback Mook Reynolds is definitely on Tennessee's radar as UT will try to flip him.
    Virginia Tech cornerback Mook Reynolds is definitely on Tennessee's radar as UT will try to flip him.Credit: 247Sports

    High School (Hometown): Northern Guilford High School (Greensboro, N.C.)

    Height/Weight: 6', 175 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Virginia Tech. He's visiting Tennessee, among other schools, according to GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required), and he plans to do it "sometime in July."

    The nation's 23rd-ranked cornerback has been committed to the Hokies since February and says he is firm, but he has elected to visit some other schools.

    He does have a personal connection to UT, and that is Vols freshman cornerback Emmanuel Moseley, who is a friend of Reynolds', according to Callahan's story.

    SB Nation's Wescott Eberts wrote that Reynolds made The Opening field at the Charlotte Nike Training Event Camp where he arrived decked out in VT gear.

    "But when he got onto the field, the Hokie commit consistently made plays on the football in the 7-on-7 portion, showing his ability to find and track the football," Eberts wrote.

    He is a tall, rangy corner who boasts excellent speed. Tennessee will try to flip him, but it appears that will be a tall order.

Rico McGraw, 4-Star S/CB

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    UT wants to try to flip Georgia commitment and in-state defensive back Rico McGraw.
    UT wants to try to flip Georgia commitment and in-state defensive back Rico McGraw.Credit: 247Sports
    High School (Hometown): Ensworth High School (Nashville, Tennessee)

    Height/Weight: 6'0", 190 pounds

    Recruitment Status: Committed to Georgia, but Tennessee, Alabama and others are trying to change his mind.

    According to Todd Huber of StudentSports.com, Rico McGraw received an invite to The Opening following an impressive performance at Nike's camp in Birmingham. 

    He surprised many with an early commitment to UGA, but he has visited Tennessee a couple of times since, and the Vols would love to flip him.

    The Opening is going to be a perfect place to see where McGraw excels the most. Is he a cornerback? Is he a safety?

    At 190 pounds, he could easily grow into a ball-hawking, hard-hitting safety, but he will get the opportunity to cover the nation's top receivers in July. How he responds should tell a lot.

    No matter where he projects, UT will keep trying to convince McGraw to stay home.

     

    All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.

    Brad Shepard is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Brad on Twitter here: 

    @Brad_Shepard