Derek Dooley has said from Day 1 that early enrollment can be huge for prospects on Tennessee's recruiting board and his staff found seven in the Class of 2012, including defensive linemen Darrington Sentimore, defensive end Trent Taylor, quarterback Nathan Peterman, safety Cody Blanc, running back Alden Hill, tight end Justin Meredith and cornerback Tino Thomas, who was originally signed in last year's class.
Taking a look into the future, how can these new Volunteers make an impact this season?
Starting with the two defensive linemen, Sentimore and Taylor, these two early enrollees could end up being the most crucial of all of Derek Dooley's 2012 signing class.
Following the departure of Tennessee's most disruptive force along the defensive line, Malik Jackson, the Volunteers are searching for playmakers, but they may have found two in this class.
Taylor, a 6-foot-2, 270-pounder out of Lake Gibson Senior High School (Lakeland, Fla.) is ranked four stars by the Scout.com network and added a spectacular senior season to his résumé, collecting 75 tackles, 35 tackles for loss and 14 sacks. Taylor will likely be an ideal candidate to challenge current defensive ends Willie Bohannon and Jacques Smith for a starting position in his very first season.
Sentimore, who originally inked with the Alabama Crimson Tide where he redshirted in 2009 before moving on to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. The three-star prospect by Scout.com, comes in at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds and could be the anchor in the interior defensive line next to current Vol and former JUCO signee Maurice Couch.
Coming out of the prep ranks, Sentimore was rated by Scout.com as the No. 22 defensive tackle in the country and a four-star prospect after tallying 78 tackles and six sacks his senior season. He added 39 tackles and seven sacks during his one season at MGCCC.
Staying on the defensive side of the football, Knoxville native Cody Blanc will move into Gibbs Hall in January as well. Blanc, who played both running back and safety at Central High School, brings 4.41 speed to the table, but will likely need time to adjust to college football before making an impact for the Vols, but his speed and determination could make him a viable candidate to see the field as a special-teamer in Year 1.
Tino Thomas will make his long-awaited arrival on Rocky Top during the spring semester after sitting out last season following surgery to repair a torn labrum.
"Aw man, it sucked. It really sucked," Thomas admitted to InsideTennessee. "I was kind of confused about everything, but after they told me what was going on, I really settled down and went home to just get ready to come back."
Thomas, who was a three-star prospect, will likely fit in at corner and bring an element of speed to the defensive backfield that was a concern last season against SEC foes.
Moving to the offensive side of the football, quarterback Nathan Peterman has been said by some to be the best senior quarterback prospect in the state of Florida. The three-star just finished up a senior season at Bartram Trail High School where he took his team to the FHSAA Class 6A semifinals before losing 46-38 to eventual champion Armwood.
With offensive coordinator Jim Chaney's love of the tight end, one player who that could make an immediate impact is prospect Justin Meredith. A former North Carolina commitment, Meredith is a three-star prospect who Scout.com's Chad Simmons called "‘a tight end with wide receiver-like hands."
With a solid spring practice effort, Meredith could challenge Cam Clear and Brendan Downs for a role along side starter Mychal Rivera, who was Tennessee's second-leading receiver in 2011, hauling in 29 balls for 344 yards and a touchdown.
And don't count out Tennessee's newest tailback Alden Hill. He will likely come into a position group that has no clear starter in 2012 under the leadership of new running backs coach and former Volunteer Jay Graham.
Hill, a three-star prospect coming in at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, is a physical runner who recently finished his prep days with school records for career yards (4,912) and career touchdowns (72), while averaging nearly 8.0 yards per carry.
With seven new Volunteers set to arrive on campus, many at positions of need, Dooley will add to his competition and continue to feed his favorite saying "Darwanism" all over the field in Tennessee's spring practice.