In years past the University of Tennessee could be mentioned in the same breath as Alabama, Penn State, USC, and Florida when it came to recruiting prowess but, with the departure of former head, coach Phillip Fulmer the way recruits eyed the Vols changed drastically. A fly-by-night flavor was quickly introduced and removed, then re-introduced with a new "..hold on a sec...be right there!" good ole' days mentality.
Last year more than a dozen recruits jumped off the good-ship orange when Lane Kiffin departed for garnet and gold pastures. For Derek Dooley, it was to be expected with regime change; things like this are supposed to happen when an entire staff walks out, but what about the guy that stayed behind to tend the flock of current players and incoming recruits.
Imagine waking up to hear your lively-hood was immediately jeopardized. For many, that would be enough to just roll over and start scanning the want ads, much less pick up a phone to see if guys like Justin Hunter were still interested in your brand of football. It was a black eye for Lance Thompson who had invested countless hours, air and road miles, only to see the fruits of his labor sail west and abroad, as former Ole Miss head coach, and Tennessee assistant Ed Orgeron started calling future Volunteers to tell them "...just don't go to class and you can be a Trojan too!"
The highly touted WR Markieth Ambles was painted as the next Jerry Rice, and as expected Kiffin managed to see the former Tennessee commit land on USC's campus. But as recent news has surfaced Mr. Ambles is nowhere to be seen at USC, and nobody knows why....so maybe Tennessee's recruit loss is a dichotomy.
Assistant coach Lance Thompson was essentially the ultimate warrior for the Vols last season, as he battled relentlessly against juggernaut SEC recruiters like Florida, Alabama, and LSU. He was the proverbial mortar in Dooley's recruiting-wall that held everything together when Kiffin departed, and to be sure Dooley wasn't disappointed to see an old comrade. One must understand and remember that Dooley is by no means a slouch himself when it comes to recruiting. Under Nick Saban in 2004 he helped coordinate what considered in many collegiate circles as the nations best class.
Of course Nick Saban had other things on his coaching mind but, Les Miles was able to prosper for the next three years off of Dooley's sweat. The NFL was pretty happy too, as two out of three recruits made it through draft day. There again was Lance Thompson who found time as an LSU assistant to help lure in those recruits with Dooley.
Now that the new season has rolled in Dooley, Thompson, and recruiting coordinator and former Lou-Tech assistant Terry Joesph have set the bar for next season by putting together a top rated class when many speculated that the Tennessee well had finally run dry.
Now the the critics can suggest they're off to a slow start, and rightfully so,especially when schools like USC have already nabbed the top-rated lineman for 2012 and the whistles haven't even blown.They're off to a slow start but, they are at the very least, off to a start.
Last October a friend of mine drug me out of my comfy over sized chair; he begged that I accompany him to a high-school game, reluctantly I went to sit through four quarters of balmy Georgia fall football. I complained about everything from the hot dog to the popcorn, and when the game got underway I forgot menial discomforts.
The Chestatee War Eagles hosted the North Hall Trojans. What started out as a one-side match for the dominant War Eagles, quickly changed, as Imani Cross began chewing away their 14 pt. lead with a 59yd power run, that began with the evasion, and shrugging off of several over sized defenders.
He went on to score three more TD"s, one of them coming by way of an impressive goal line stand; it highlighted the impending strength of the 6-1" 220 jr. and future Volunteer. It was abundantly clear to me that the young man was bound for collegiate play. It was also clear to many others, as I spied several SEC scouts speaking into their handy little recorders, scribbling on notebooks, and cam-cording for a more in depth look.
He was such a strong and powerful runner that many expected the likes of Florida, or Alabama to run away with this young man but luckily for the orange clad he is now committed to Tennessee play, and committed early.
Again here is that ten dollar word ...again, dichotomy.
You sometimes have to worry about recruiting, too well. Let's take a look at incoming QB, Justin Worley for example. He is rumored by some to be a Danny Weurffel type passer (only taller) waiting to step out of Tyler Bray's shadow. For the Vols it's good and bad. Good, that you have a Gatorade National Football Player of the Year to step in just in case, bad because to a future recruit you may inevitably be riding the bench for the first three seasons of your collegiate career.
Heavily recruited, and ranked as the 2012 top QB recruit, Gunner Kiel knows that ten dollar word also , and he knows that as long as Bray or Worley stays healthy he won't be taking snaps anytime soon. Again, more good news, if Dooley and company can land athletes like Kiel, despite the issue it will only highlight the allure that Tennessee again is a school worthy of such notoriety.
To be honest, Tennessee needs to speed up on the recruiting trail now. But, as I said Imani Cross is a decent start, and Dooley has the right mind-set by signing kids that are buying into the Vol-For-Life campaign. But as bad as I hate to write this, he might want to take a page from Kiffin and sign early as a Vol-For-Right-Now. It's a crappy way to sign athletes, but when coaches like Muschamp, Saban, Richt, and Miles are swimming in the same SEC waters, you want to make damn sure you are the last one floating.
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Thanks and Godspeed