Simply put, if a guy has quickness, flexible hips and some instincts, you take a chance on him.
Tennessee took a chance on just such a player a decade ago — signing a relatively obscure in-state defensive back from Jackson named Jabari Greer. He wound up starting for three years at cornerback and recently completed his eighth season in the NFL.
Maleek Hall just might be the next Jabari Greer. At 5-feet-10 and 180 pounds, Hall is virtually identical in size. He is similarly fast, clocking a 4.49 in the 40 at the recent Father Ryan Camp in Nashville. And, like Greer, he's an in-state prospect. He'll be a senior this fall at Kenwood High in Clarksville.
Because he plays for the same 7-on-7 team (Music City) as heralded receiver and fellow Clarksville native Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Hall will have a lot of eyes watching him the next few months. He plans to make those eyes open wide as he travels the summer camp circuit.
"It's especially important for a guy like me," Hall said. "I've got one offer, UT Martin, so getting your name out there is very important. It's important for a guy like me to get my name out there and get offers from some bigger schools."
That's why Hall was in East Tennessee last weekend for an IMG 7 on 7 Qualifier at Knoxville's U.S. Cellular Complex.
"What brought me out here was the environment," he said. "There's a lot of athletes here, so it's just to show your talent and stuff."
Hall rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior last fall but, by his own admission, is better suited to play defense at the collegiate level. Six interceptions in 2011 support that claim.
"I play fast," he said. "Offensively, I think I run good routes and I've got good hands. Defense is what I play best, though. I react real well and my timing is really good. What I can get better is using my hands on defense ... man coverage and that."
Thanks to a muscular frame and an aggressive mindset, Hall has developed a reputation as a big-time hitter.
"I do bring the wood," he said, grinning. "I do bring the wood, and it shows on film. I take helmets off."
Although he plays mostly safety for his high school and 7 on 7 teams, Hall says his one-on-one coverage skills enable him to play anywhere in the secondary.
"I can play corner, too," he said. "When we play good teams in our district, like Springfield with Brandon Farmer, I guard him one on one."
Asked what he's looking for in a college, Hall replied: "The environment and a chance to play. I can show the coach I can play in practice but the environment is important. I want me and my guys to bond good. I want to make sure the environment's safe and that there's things to do besides just football. I want to live my life and grow up a little bit. I want the coach to not only be my friend but also to coach me. I want him to coach me first. And I want a school with great academics."
Despite growing up in Tennessee, Hall never felt much allegiance to the Big Orange until Jay Graham was hired as running backs coach last winter.
"I never followed Tennessee until I talked to Graham," Hall said. "Then I fell in love with those guys. UT's an awesome school. I love UT-Knoxville, man."