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Three of the most fertile recruiting territories for Tennessee's football and basketball programs are Memphis, Atlanta and Florida. This spring's Big Orange Caravan includes stops in Memphis (May 8), Jacksonville (May 16) and Atlanta (May 22).

If you think that's a coincidence, you haven't been paying attention. Maintaining a high profile in these talent-rich areas is critical to Tennessee's recruiting efforts.

"I think it's important," head football coach Derek Dooley conceded this week. "The dynamics have changed a lot from the '90s in how things are, but Tennessee still sells. It's still attractive. The biggest thing we've got to do is do our part on the football field to generate some better results."

Dooley is making the Caravan tour this spring, accompanied by Vol basketball coach Cuonzo Martin, Lady Vol basketball coach Holly Warlick and athletics director Dave Hart. At each stop they sign dozens of autographs, then share insights and anecdotes with several hundred die-hard supporters.

"What's important," Dooley said, "is that it's a chance for them to shake hands with the coaches, say hello, say 'We support you' or say, 'That was the worst-coached game I've ever seen.' That's a good thing to do ... to get out and touch 'em."

Connecting with the fan base is nice but keeping the talent pipelines open in those key recruiting territories is an equally vital goal of the Caravan.

"That's at the core of the decision-making," Hart said. "It's certainly a very, very important component because we need the visibility in the markets where we're trying to recruit elite athletes. The state of Georgia's been a fertile ground for us for a long time, and Florida's been a fertile ground for everybody. As those decisions are made (regarding Caravan stops) that's always one of the key factors."

Rajion Neal is one of several Peach State products suiting up for the Volunteers.
(Danny Parker/
Tennessee currently has four scholarship basketball players from the Atlanta area — Trae Golden of Powder Springs, Kenny Hall of Stone Mountain, Jordan McRae of Midway and Armani Moore of Marietta. The roster also features one Memphian (Jarnell Stokes) and one Floridian (Derek Reese).

Meanwhile, the projected two-deep for Vol football features six Floridians — guard Marcus Jackson, tailback Marlin Lane, linebackers Jordan Williams and Curt Maggitt, end Trevarris Saulsberry and kicker Michael Palardy — along with 12 Georgians — tackles Ja'Wuan James and Alan Posey, wideouts Vincent Dallas and Da' Rick Rogers, tailback Rajion Neal, end Steven Fowlkes, nose tackle Greg Clark, linebackers A.J. Johnson and Christian Harris, defensive backs Brian Randolph, Justin Coleman and Brent Brewer.

Surprisingly, the Nashville area has emerged as a serious talent hub in recent years, producing eight potential 2012 starters — fullback Ben Bartholomew, center Alex Bullard, tackle Antonio Richardson, guard James Stone, wideout Zach Rogers and defensive backs Marsalis Teague, Eric Gordon and Rod Wilks. That's why Dooley will be making a meet-and-greet stop at Music City in July.

With competition from the NFL's Tennessee Titans, the NHL's Nashville Predators and an improving Vanderbilt football program, Tennessee's grip on the Nashville sports market is facing stiffer competition than it once did. Dooley sees no slippage, however.

"I don't think that's had any impact on the interest in Tennessee (football)," Dooley said. "Nashville's important — for our fan base and for our recruiting — but I don't think the other programs there are cutting into Tennessee's interest. That's just one man's opinion.

"I know this: We played in Nashville twice my first year here (November of 2010 versus Vandy, December of 2010 versus North Carolina in the Music City Bowl), and I felt like I was in a home game because of the support we had there. I hope it's still there. We'll see. Time will tell."

The athletics director agrees that the Nashville market is vital to Tennessee's success.

"I think we need to go to Nashville," Hart said. "That's one person's opinion but I think we need to be in Nashville (on the Caravan) next year."

Tennessee's 2012 Caravan stops were planned by former athletics director Mike Hamilton. Hart says he'll consider two factors when he begins scheduling the 2013 Caravan.

"Year to year I think you look at 'Where have we not been and where do we need to go?' That's what we'll do when this caravan ends," he said. "We'll sit down and brainstorm."

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