That has to be the word on every Vol fan’s mind as Tennessee gets set to face MTSU this Saturday. While it is Homecoming weekend in Knoxville, I would bet no more than 90,000 will be on hand for what will more than likely be a much needed blowout for the Vols. This will not only be due to the Big Orange’s recent lack of success, but also to, “The Game of the Century” between #1 LSU and #2 Alabama during the same time. However, while the attendance is sure to be down, there will still be a few highly sought after recruits on hand. Not to go off on a rant, but that is what is so impressive to me – The Vols are 3-5 (0-5) and are still recruiting their tails off. This team has not been ranked in the Top 25 in years and Dooley is working on his 3rd consecutive top 15 recruiting class. Progress is being made in Knoxville, yet so many are too blind to see it. But I digress; let’s look at what is happening on the recruiting trail.
I’m going to keep this as short and sweet as possible. So, as of today, here’s the scoop on what’s been going on with recruiting regarding the Vols’ primary targets – the rumors, facts, and everything in between.
Cordarelle Patterson, WR – The Vols are still in great shape Patterson, and I believe lead with him. He has visited Knoxville multiple times, has a good relationship with the coaches and some players, but now it just comes down to closing the deal. Several teams are looking to get in on him late, but he respects that Dooley and his staff has been pursuing him from the beginning. It is believed to be a race between Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee, with the Vols out front a good ways. Patterson will be visiting Knoxville for the Vandy game, but visiting Georgia the next weekend for his final visit. It’s always good to have the last visit, so the Dawgs have that advantage. Question is, will it be enough to catch up with the leading Vols? Only time will tell, but I think Patterson is a Vol come February.
Denico Autry, DE – I’ve done a lot of talking about Denico recently, so I will be as brief as possible while telling you what you need to know. I believe the Vols are in extremely good shape with the big lineman. The rumor is that its likely Autry became a silent commitment to the Vols this past weekend despite that ugly showing against South Carolina. He admitted that the Vols led after that trip, but I think it’s more than that. Apparently, he and his already committed teammate, Jacobs, are looking to come back for the Vandy game as well. So why come back a couple weeks later? My guess is their trip back up to Knoxville is not simply to enjoy the game, but to iron out the details with the coaches. What gives me even more confidence with him is that apparently Alabama has stopped recruiting him. They were the Vols main competition, but they simply have too many interested, elite prospects and only a few, specific spots to fill – a great problem to have. My guess is that this is a done deal, and if I’m right, this is a huge get for the Vols.
Darrington Sentimore, DT – This is a guy that has had a lot of rumors surrounding him on the message boards, so take most of what you read with a grain of salt. However, having said that, I firmly believe that for the same reasons mentioned above regarding Bama, if Dooley wants Sentimore then he’s a Vol. I think if Bama would have him back then he’d go, but I don’t seem Saban doing that. Also, Sentimore has struck up a nice, new friendship with Autry and Jacobs, something that I think can and will play a factor in the end. I believe that if taking Sentimore means getting Autry then Dooley will take him, but if not, then he won’t. Despite his off the field issues, there was a reason Saban initially recruited this kid; he’s a beast and is extremely talented. Keep your eye on him, because I can see the Vols potentially landing the package deal of Jacobs, Autry and Sentimore; and if that happens, that will go a long way to adding depth to the Vols’ defensive line.
Alton “Pig” Howard, ATH – This kid is a such an electric athlete, probably the best playmaker the Vols are looking at. While a little bit smaller, when you watch him you can’t help but draw comparisons to Percy Harvin. As far as what he does after the catch, the variety of ways to use him, and his top-notch speed. However, while Howard visited Knoxville and enjoyed his trip, currently I think the staff has some work to do here. I firmly believe Tennessee is his favorite school, but that he is receiving a lot of pressure to stay at home and go to UCF. Family plays a large part with a prospect, and even if he likes another school, momma usually wins out. I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t see Pig leaving the state.
Daniel McCullers, DT – The big DT is currently leaning towards the Crimson Tide, and its rumored he is a silent commitment. While the Vols still have an outside shot with McCullers, it seems DC Kirby Smart has made him a primary target. Weighing in at 380 lbs., you have to wonder if they are looking for their next Terrence Cody to play NT in that complex 3-4 system. If so, that’s a great selling point for them to pitch. Don’t get me wrong, the Vols still have a shot, but my guess is that he is headed to Tuscaloosa to play his college ball. And after all, can you blame him?
Andrew Jelks, OT – Jelks is a guy that’s really hard to get a read on. He grew up a TN fan, but has not committed yet. I personally think that the staff has told him to wait, which is a good thing. I think Dooley has more options than most think to add to this class, and while it’s good to add depth at the O-line, we need help on the D-line immediately. We have so much young talent on the O-line that it’s ridiculous; so while you generally like to take at least 1 or 2 OT a year, if you can reel in a much-needed 4-star DT that will contribute immediately, you have to do it. Jelks has ruled out Stanford from his list, and I think it is down to Vandy and Tennessee. I think if Dooley wants him he’s a Vol, and if not he will go to Vandy. Just my opinion. Therefore, seeing as how we are in such good shape with so many other solid prospects, my guess is he ends up a Commodore.
Mario Pender, RB – Many have not heard much about this guy, but in a word I woud describe him as – elite. He is the #5 RB in the ESPN 150 and is currently a FSU commit. All is lost right? In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend.” Pender is rumored to be on campus this weekend in Knoxville with his teammate and friend, 4-star S Jordan Diggs. While I personally think this rumor is farfetched, if it is indeed true, I could see this turning out just like Marlin Lane did last year. So even though it’s unlikely, if he did become a Vol, it would give TN that elite RB it needs to compete in the SEC. There’s so much time left too; never count out Dooley in November.
Jordan Diggs, S – The aforementioned Diggs is a lot more interested than his teammate, and is definitely coming for an OV. He told Josh Low, “I just want to get a feel for Rocky Top,” Diggs said. “I like that I have an opportunity to play at Tennessee. They have a young team and have had a lot of injuries this season. I think they will be back to the old Tennessee soon. I really like their coaching staff.” He has already visited Nebraska and Vanderbilt, and will visit South Carolina after Tennessee. Call me crazy, but even with this class already loaded with secondary talent, I can see Dooley reeling in Diggs. Some believe this to be a fight between Nebraska, where he has a former teammate playing, and South Carolina, which was his father played ball. However, I would keep my eye on this kid because I think he may surprise everyone come NSD. I won’t say he’ll be a Vol, but this type of situation is where Dooley excels.
Trae Elton, S – The Alabama native has a lot of interest in Tennessee, and many Bama insiders believe he will end up a Vol. He is a very physical safety that I could see playing corner in college. I really think the Vols have a good shot a landing this kid, and if they do, that is only beefing up an already stout defensive class. If the staff comes down to only taking Diggs or Elton (ideal situation, obviously), well, then that’s for them to decide. However, make no mistake, either one of these kids would be a great addition to this class.
Beniquez Brown, ATH – Brown is down to either Tennessee or Mississippi State. While I think the Vols have a lot more going for them in the future than State, the Bulldogs have an edge. Brown’s cousin, who is also his teammate, is currently committed to the Bulldogs, and he has said multiple times that they are very close. As I mentioned early with Pig, family plays such a huge factors in these kids’ decisions. So while the RB/LB hybrid athlete may be more attracted to what the Vols have to offer, I just don’t see him going anywhere but State.
Jonathan Bullard, DE – Bullard is an impressive lineman that has a solid offer list. While the Vols have an outside shot and will more than likely get him to Knoxville for an official visit, it is rumored that he has his list narrowed down to Clemson and Florida, with the Gators leading. But as we all know, things change after visits, and if the staff can get him here then that’s half the battle; so I wouldn’t completely rule it out. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No.
Darius Hamilton, DE – This is one of the few current 5-star prospects that the Vols actually have a chance at landing. Hamilton’s final four include Rutgers, Tennessee, Cal, and Florida. While early playing time at DE in the SEC is attractive to Hamilton, I just don’t see him leaving the state of New Jersey. His dad wants him at home – enough said.
Ok so that wasn’t short, but hopefully it was sweet. I could go on with other recruits the Vols are interested in, but these have been the hot topics over the past week. In closing, I just want to say that despite the hard times we are enduring on Rocky Top, things have never looked brighter on the recruiting trail. A lot of people don’t know this, but Dooley was Saban’s recruiting coordinator at LSU – the guy knows what he’s doing. I firmly believe we will finish very, very strong this class, possibly top 10, which is impressive considering the last two years we’ve had. So remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a broken program in the best conference in the nation – and recruiting is where you lay the foundation. At any rate, here is the list of prospects attending the game this weekend:
2012 S, Jordan Diggs
2012 RB, Mario Pender (rumored)
2012 WR, Drae Bowles (commit)
2013 ATH, Cornelius Corn Elder
* Any additions or subtractions to this list will be listed in the comments section