"The Memphis job is the perfect job in the perfect place for me," said Larry Porter when he was hired as the new head football coach of the University of Memphis back in November.
"I understand the Memphis brand. I believe in it unconditionally. I have a conviction, a passion about it, and a vision that allows me to walk into homes in this community, talk to the student body and faculty and get them to believe in that vision."
If those words sound unfamiliar, it's because they connote optimism, something that the floundering Memphis football program has lacked in recent seasons.
Porter intends to bring it back in spades, and the best way to gauge optimism in a program is to see what kind of recruits the program hauls in. Assuming that seeing is believing, Porter has reason to be excited.
As of last night, 26 new players have committed to play for the Tigers in 2010, and some have already hit campus. According to Rivals.com, Memphis received commitments from 13 of the top 750 players in the country, and four of them have already enrolled for the spring semester, making them eligible for spring practice.
Two other players among those 13 come from right here in Memphis, an area that Porter was particularly intent on scouring for talent. Linebacker Fred Harvey (White Station HS) and defensive end Corey Jones (Mitchell HS) both opted to stay home.
"Coach Porter is starting something special and I wanted to be a part of that" Harvey said when he committed in early December. "Coach Porter is going to change this program."
Of the 15 high profile Memphis-area recruits, the Tigers only picked up Jones and Harvey, losing many to bigger schools like West Virginia, Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State and North Carolina; some, like four-star guard O.C. Brown (Manassas HS), even bolted for Conference USA rival Southern Miss.
Still, considering many of them were already spoken for when Porter arrived in November, the Tigers did all right, eventually signing a total of five players from the Greater Memphis area.
Whatever his effect on Memphis kids, there is no question that Porter's enthusiasm is infectious, as shown by the number of recruits that come from the same school.
Wideout Dejarrius Adams is joined by linebacker Alphonso Bruton, a teammate from El Camino CC in California; DT D'Angelo McCray accompanied quarterback Andy Summerlin from Coffeyville CC in Kansas, and running back Jerrell Rhodes brings with him guard Johnnie Farms and wide receiver Sean Farr of Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.
Farr, a 6'2" wideout who helped lead Dunbar HS in Baltimore, MD to a Class 1A state championship in 2008, is pegged to be the most talented recruit in Porter's class. Farr's senior season at Dunbar produced over 1,300 yards and 18 touchdowns, and Porter hopes Farr can have the same kind of success with the Tigers.
"[Coach Porter] came straight in here and told me that he needs a playmaker and he knew I was a playmaker. He said that I need to be downfield making plays for the team,” Farr said. "I can go anywhere and catch the ball and that's what I'm going to do when I get to Memphis."
Overall, the Tigers' class ranks 59th in the nation and 4th in Conference USA, trailing Houston (45th), Southern Miss (53rd) and Central Florida (56th). Considering they finished with a 2-10 record last year, that's not too shabby.
It even includes two former SEC players in linebacker Khiry Battle (Arkansas) and wide receiver Delmon Robinson (Mississippi State), a sign that maybe things really are looking up for the Tigers.
"This is a class we are very excited about," Porter told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "We feel we've improved our team across the board."
Porter, for one, is brimming with confidence, and given the recent decline of the program, Memphians can hardly wait for him to be right. This class won't win games by itself, but at least it's a start.
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