Until this weekend, Tennessee football coach Butch Jones quietly was compiling his second consecutive strong recruiting class. But the cycle hadn't featured any momentum-turning moments like those that highlighted last year.
All of that changed with "Orange Carpet Day," UT's most recent recruiting event held Saturday.
The Volunteers erupted with four commitments, giving them 17 overall and catapulting UT to seventh in 247Sports' most recent recruiting rankings.
Then late Sunday night, high-rising Murfreesboro, Tennessee, tight end Kyle Oliver gave UT its fourth commitment in two days (and sixth in two weeks).
The Orange Carpet fallout was exactly what Jones needed to keep a sturdy foothold in the SEC arms race. Suddenly, Tennessee is the hot name in recruiting again heading into the heat of summer.
Weekends like this are reserved for only top programs. The Vols haven't been among the nation's elite in a decade, but recruiting momentum like what they're building proves UT's brand and Jones' pitch are still strong despite the team's struggles.
The impact of the pledges goes much deeper than team rankings. Here are the reasons why this is important.
Commitments in clusters are always major news, but it's been the status quo under Jones. His two-year Tennessee tenure has been marked by well-timed commitments and players pledging to UT in bunches.
- On the first day of Jones' first spring practice in March 2013, offensive lineman Coleman Thomas became the Vols' second commitment in the class. Within a week, Neiko Creamer, Todd Kelly Jr., Jalen Hurd and Treyvon Paulk followed.
- Last year's Orange Carpet Day equivalent was "Foundation Week," a six-day rotating door of recruiting that yielded six commitments.
- Dillon Bates' pledge to the Vols occurred on national television at The Opening camp event in Oregon, giving UT some appreciated national exposure.
Tennessee hopes 5-star legacy defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie follows Bates' lead and commits to the Vols at the same event on his scheduled decision date of July 10.
If that happens, he'll cap off yet another recruiting stretch uncharacteristic of a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2009. Beginning with the June 9 commitment of quarterback Quinten Dormady, Tennessee has been on fire on the trail.
That doesn't appear to be ending anytime soon.
Depth of Talent
Bringing in a class of 32 prospects full of immediate contributors this season is going to be major lifeblood for a program desperately needing revitalization.
But there are still going to be significant depth issues all over the field.
Every one of UT's four commitments this weekend is an athletic upgrade who fills a major need.
Though the Vols signed three running backs in the '14 class in Hurd, Derrell Scott and Treyvon Paulk, they'll lose two seniors after this year—Marlin Lane and Devrin Young. Kamara will step right in as a playmaker with elite ability, and he'll be the squad's oldest scholarship running back.
The former Alabama player transferred after one season at the Capstone, and the best thing is he'll still have three years to play. Director of scouting for 247Sports Barton Simmons told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan (subscription required):
I thought that he had a chance to be a really elite back at Alabama. But one false move on that depth chart and you're kind of sunk. I think now that he's kind of getting a fresh start, I just think he's got a ton of ability. In high school, he had an all-purpose skill set, but he really has an every-down type of mentality and frame. I just think he can be a really elite SEC back. I really think his skill set is as talented as just about any back that you’re going to find out there.
Tennessee has major depth holes in the defensive interior and at linebacker. The Buford boys replenish depth there and have high athletic ceilings.
Finally, Oliver was more of a luxury with UT signing tight ends Daniel Helm and Ethan Wolf in last year's cycle. But Oliver is a 6'5", 228-pound converted wide receiver with immense potential, according to Simmons:
The Vols are finally, consistently getting the type of athlete who can put them back on the SEC map. All four of this weekend's pledges are potential SEC stars.
Many of Tennessee's recent recruiting wins have come in areas crucial to the success of the program.
All three of Saturday's commitments hail from the Atlanta area, which, because of it's location, is probably the SEC's biggest battleground. For the Vols to go into that recruiting hotbed known as "Hotlanta" and win three major battles for top targets is impressive.
The recruiting world is taking notice.
Jones continues to make strides in owning the state with Oliver's commitment. He chose UT over Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Louisville and others, and he also was drawing interest from Florida State and Ohio State.
UT offered him this week, got him on campus and secured his commitment.
|Class Keys: Jones' Rebuilding Recruiting In Tennessee, Georgia|
|Year||Recruits from Tennessee||Recruits from Metro Atlanta||Recruits from Everywhere Else|
Like so often has been the case under Jones, the second-year UT coach smartly tapped into connections to close the deal on all this weekend's commitments.
Oliver plays for Oakland High School, which happens to be the home of UT offensive line commit Jack Jones. Quarterback/athlete Jauan Jennings also hails from rival Blackman High, and the trio know one another.
It has become cliche for recruits to refer to the place where they commit as "family," but Jones has taken advantage of actual hereditary connections to rebuild the Vols.
From the bloodlines of legacy players to focusing on high school teammates to recruiting buddies who, in turn, peer-recruit one another, Tennessee has worked that web to become one of the nation's hottest recruiting teams.
This weekend's success is the latest evidence, but it won't be the last. If Jones continues to recruit the way he is, the wins won't be far behind.
All recruiting rankings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports Composite.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here: