Vols Add Speed Racer

Recruiting is becoming a little like dining at an international smorgasbord for Phillip Fulmer and staff, as the Vols added their second commitment in two days and third prospect in April on Monday.

Damien Thigpen, a two-way star at Stone Wall Jackson High in Manassas, Va., is the latest to join the Big Orange fold, informing Fulmer of his decision via the phone Sunday evening.

Ranked the nation's No. 13 cornerback prospect by Scout.com the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Thigpen also plays running back. He is a bona fide blazer with 4.34 speed in the 40 and he ranks nationally in the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.41 seconds.

Despite missing three and a half games with a high ankle sprain as a junior, Thigpen rushed 79 times for 632 yards and seven touchdowns. On defense he recorded 32 stops, broke up eight passes, blocked three field goals and one punt.

Thigpen is a versatile athlete with disposable speed and quickness to be a dynamic talent on offense, defense and special teams. Indications are that Tennessee will take a look at him as a change-of-pace back or a slot back that can be deployed as a runner and receiver.

During his sophomore campaign, Thigpen gained 600 yards and scored seven touchdowns in 60 carries. He contributed 40 tackles on defense and returned a kickoff for a TD. As a freshman Thigpen picked up 210 yards and scored two touchdowns on 18 carries. His three-year total of 1,442 yards and 16 touchdowns in 158 carries for an average of 9.1 yards per touch. He added 102 tackles on defense and numerous big plays on special teams.

Thigpen plans to compete in track as well as football at Tennessee. He won the Virginia AAA State Outdoor Championship in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 37.42 which was the fastest recorded in the state in 2007.

Tennessee secondary coach and Virginia native Larry Slade recruited Thigpen, who also had offers from Stanford, Auburn, Boston College, Connecticut, Minnesota and West Virginia. His diversity, size and speed will remind Vol fans of Mark Jones.

"I committed to Tennessee last night," Thigpen told Scout.com recruiting analyst Matt Alkire. "My dad called Head Coach (Phil) Fulmer and told him I was thinking about committing and then he talked to Coach (Larry) Slade too. After that I talked to Coach Slade and told him why I liked Tennessee and he had me call Coach Fulmer who was at his daughter's wedding reception.

"Coach Fulmer was very excited I was coming to Tennessee and said that he had some great stuff planned for me there. They want me to play running back for them and Coach Slade said that they want to use me out in space and take advantage of my speed on the perimeter. Another thing he said they want to do is split me out as a receiver and take advantage of match-ups that way as well."

Tennessee first offered Thigpen on Feb. 24, and have made him a priority with frequent contact since then. The speedster recalled the day UT's offer came through in a prior interview with Alkire.

"My father was talking to Coach Larry Slade and passed the phone over to me," Thigpen said. "When he got on the phone with me he told me I had an offer to play running back there. They have a tremendous football tradition and are great in track too, so that combination gives me some extra incentive."

Incentive won out on Monday as the Vols got their man and continue to build momentum in a recruiting campaign that is showing early signs of thriving.

The jury is still out on the four new coaches on the offensive side and the new offense they're installing. Likewise it remains to be seen how they perform in the arena of competitive persuasion over the long haul. Yet there's also clearly a sense of encouragement and optimism about the direction the program is headed.

It's not yet a prevailing trend, but there has been a subtle shift in wind direction on Rocky Top.

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