Seldom to average-at-best ball carriers evolve into Southeastern Conference game changers. If universities want elite skill at running back, they must recruit it.
"Really I just felt like it was a good fit — closer to home, have a lot of friends that go there and felt like they were genuine and they believe in what they were telling me," Kamara told InsideTennessee. "I felt like I could trust what they were saying."
If recruiting targets aren't talking about the family atmosphere generated by Tennessee second-year coach Butch Jones, they're talking about his outlook on the future. Where Jones sees the Vols program over the next several years entices Kamara, who is now at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College after signing with Alabama in 2013 following a standout career at Norcross (Ga.) High School.
"Coach Jones, he's really passionate about his job and what he's doing," the Scout four-star prospect said. "He really wants to bring Tennessee back to the Phillip Fulmer days when they were on top of the SEC. He's real passionate about it, and I like that because I want to be a part of something special and I want to be a part of a comeback. Me and coach Jones, we've talked a lot and I kind of think we're on the same level of understanding of the future of Tennessee and the future of college football. He's really trying to move mountains, so I like that about him."
The Blue Dragon running back said with his proximity in the Jayhawk Conference to the western portion of the country, more Pac-12 schools got involved with his recruitment this time around such as Arizona and USC to go with Georgia, Oklahoma State and Wisconsin. In the end, the Big Orange simply had too many positives to pass up.
Kamara's pledge gave the Big Orange 14 verbal commitments for the 2015 signing class. Since then, Tennessee added five more commitments and the class ranks No. 9 nationally as of July 5. He joins three-star Rocky Reid in the group at running back.
A knee injury slowed Kamara early into his one season at Alabama after being named the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Mr. Football for the 2012 season. He was suspended for the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. His time in Tuscaloosa prepared him for what lies ahead on Rocky Top.
"Physically, when you get to college football and especially in the SEC, everybody is a freak in some way," Karmara said. "Somebody is faster, a lot of people are bigger, and it's just grown men. You've got to take that weightroom and that training seriously. At Alabama, I really got serious in the weightroom. I already was, but I really took it to a new level and tried to sculpt out my body from a running aspect and training and working hard. I feel like I learned a lot from being at ‘Bama just from a physical aspect and how you have to train to compete on that level.
"I already feel good going into Hutch and going into Tennessee because I already know how it's going to be at Tennessee. Of course, they're going to do it different, but I have a good idea."
Tennessee signed Jabo Lee in its 2013 class, but he never saw a practice in Knoxville and attends Temple. From its 2012 class, all three backs — Davante Bourque, Alden Hill and Quenshaun Watson — are no longer with the team.
On the current roster as running backs for Team 118 are seniors Marlin Lane and Devrin Young with freshmen Jalen Hurd, Treyvon Paulk and Derrell Scott. Justus Pickett sat out last fall after transferring from Maryland.
"Yeah, I looked at the depth chart because to be honest with you, there's only one football," Kamara said. "A lot of schools are like, ‘Oh, we're going to get you the ball this way and that way,' but you can kind of weed out what's real and what's not.
"Looking at Tennessee, they were like, ‘We want you to come in,' and they explained the depth chart to me. I was like, ‘OK.' It adds up because there's not going to be a whole lot of people on the depth chart. Me coming in, I'll be the oldest running back in the room."
That group is led by running backs coach Robert Gillespie, who Kamara says is "one of the biggest reasons I committed."
"One of the differences this time around (with recruiting) was I was really looking for a relationship with my position coach because I didn't really have that at Alabama. I didn't really have a great relationship with my position coach. Coach G, I've really tried to spend a lot of time getting to know him. I went to Tennessee before I committed to try to hang around him and see how he was. He is a guy that does not change. He's the same 24/7 and that's what I really liked about him. He won't try to sugarcoat anything; he'll tell you how it is, and I like that about him. He's a younger guy and played at Florida, played the position. That plays into it a lot."
In 2012, with Kamara carrying the load in the Norcross backfield and now-Tennessee wide receiver Jason Croom out wide, the Blue Devils won the school's first-ever GHSA state championship. Kamara finished the season with 2,264 rushing yards, 286 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns.
In the 21-14 title win over Lovejoy, Kamara ran for 119 yards on 33 attempts.
Croom and Kamara fed off one another and pushed each other to improve at Norcross. That's expected to rekindle on Rocky Top.
"That's going to be special because our high school gamers were crazy at Norcross," Kamara said. "Me and him worked out, and we kind of set the tone for the team. So, it's going to be a lot of fun to be back with him and competing through workouts in junior high and stuff. Me and him we used to push each other. Sometimes we weren't even friends on training days from working so hard because if I catch him slipping a little, I'm on him and if I'm slipping then he's on me. It's going to be fun."
The runner says he is not certain when he will take his official visit to Tennessee. He will speak with Gillespie to get something set up before enrolling in Knoxville in January.
The playmaker admitted that he didn't think about it until after his declaration, but he's taking a route similar to that of one of the most electrifying Vols in program history. Hutchinson is the same community college that produced eventual NFL Draft first-round selection Cordarrelle Patterson.
Kamara reports to Kansas on Saturday. Coach Rion Rhoades leads Hutchinson into their 2014 season opener at Gowans Stadium on Aug. 28.
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