Three years ago UT went to Clarendon, Ark., to get last season's leading rusher tailback Cedric Houston, who enters his junior campaign as perhaps the SEC's best established running talent. Houston was ranked the nation's No. 7 running back in 2000 and played in the national high school all-star game.
This year Tennessee hooked a couple of big fish from Warren, Ark., including the state's top prize in wide receiver Brett Smith, a Parade All-American with professional potential. Joining Smith was friend and teammate Roshaun Fellows regarded as one of the south's top 10 cornerbacks.
In between those catches of the season, Tennessee reeled in another keeper from Jonesboro, Ark., in defensive tackle Greg Jones, a sophomore who projects as a starter for the Vols after earning quality reps as a true freshman in 2001. Jones was the third player from Jonesboro to sign with Tennessee over the last decade following offensive linemen Leslie Ratliff and Reggie Coleman each who went on to start two seasons for the Vols.
Oddly enough, Tennessee had never signed a prospect from Arkansas who lettered before inking Ratliff who earned his first of three letters in 1992. Much of the credit for the Vols recent success goes to assistant Steve Caldwell who recruited all six of Tennessee's signees from the Natural State.
Although the verdict is still out on who is Arkansas' No. 1 prospect in 2004, one name that is sure to attract an abundance of attention from scouts is Conway High School fullback Peyton Hillis, a 6-21/2, 242-pound bulldozer with 4.72 speed. As a junior, Hillis led the Wampus Cats rushing attack with 1,427 yards and 17 touchdowns in 222 carries for an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. As a sophomore, he compiled 964 yards and 9 touchdowns in 162 attempts for a 5.9 yard average.
Highly recognized recruiting expert Tom Lemming rates Hillis the nation's No. 1 fullback, and his praises are being sung by other talent scouts who have seen video tape from last season in which he resembles Tampa Bay bruiser Mike Alstott.
Hillis doesn't seem to mind the interest he is drawing from schools like Nebraska, Auburn, Colorado and Arkansas among others, but he is surprised by it.
"I never thought I could play Division I," he was quoted in an April edition of the Democrat-Gazette. "It's an honor to be rated with the best players in the nation and state. I guess college coaches and scouts saw me play and think I can play at the next level."
Hillis, who is working at speed camps this summer in an effort to shave his 40 time to a 4.6, indicates he would like to stay in the south and is looking for an opportunity to showcase his diverse offensive skills.
"I'm looking for a school that wants to win and has a winning tradition," he said. "I'm looking at the type of offense the school runs and how they use the fullback. I want to go where they not only let the fullback carry the ball some, but also throw to him. I like catching the football. I have pretty good hands and good blocking skills."
It sounds like Hillis would be a good fit in Tennessee's multiple offensive scheme and like the Vols have the right bait to land another big one from Arkansas.