Volunteer State's best checks out Vols

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Tennessee not only badly wants Jalen Hurd to be a Volunteer, it needs the blue chip running back to stay home and help the Big Orange rebuild its program.

First-year Vol head coach Butch Jones and his support staff rolled out the red carpet to the Beech (Tenn.) High School product and a vast number of other elite prospects for an invite-only junior day.

"It's been great," Hurd told InsideTennessee. "It was a different experience than last time. Coach Jones is doing a great job. I think he's going to be very successful. I don't know if I'm going to be a part of it yet, so I'm just taking my visits slowly and just enjoying everything."

With national championship winning head coaches like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer courting Hurd, it could be tough for a first-year head man at Tennessee to make up enough ground to get a signed National Letter of Intent.

"He's fitting right in there with them," Hurd said of Jones. "He's a great guy. He's honest. He's not going to tell you any bull crap, basically. He's going to tell you what's up right to your face. He's a good guy."

Make no mistake about it, the Volunteers badly want Hurd on The Hill for his college career, and he knows how important he could be to the program returning to prominence.

"He's told me that, but he's told everybody that — just how important it is to stay home and be a part of this community," Hurd said.

While on Rocky Top, the impending five-star running back was in attendance with his mother and step-father sitting with Jones and running backs coach Jay Graham to see the Tennessee men's basketball squad hammer Kentucky 88-58 in front of 21,678.

"It was insane," Hurd said of the atmosphere. "It was just like any other football game. They were just out there and all the fans were going crazy. I loved it."

The record-setting runner has received a steady stream of attention from the Vols of late.

"Coach Jones, all the new coaching staff, they've been great. I really enjoyed today. As soon as signing day was over, I talked to coach Jones, I talked to coach Graham, I talked to the offensive coordinator and everything was great. They're showing me love. I'm really enjoying it."

Hurd ran for a single-season state record of 3,357 yards his junior season.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Hurd visited unofficially last September to see Tennessee play Florida at Neyland Stadium. This trip was different.

"I wanted to see relationships and see how that would go because last time I came in here, the relationships weren't as on point as I wanted. I come in here and sit down with coach Jones and coach Graham the whole time and spend time with them. It was a great experience."

The school of choice must show positive progression and have success on the field this fall if it wants to get the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder.

"Just to see how good they do. You just want to watch the teams. This year's football season really didn't matter but next year's football season coming up, that's going to really matter with how it affects me. And, just building a relationship with coaches."

Hurd said he had an "awesome" time hanging around Graham and Jones a majority of the time.

"I was one of the first guys in there and one of the last guys to leave, and they're just all in there just giving us love to my family and everybody. So, it was great."

While other programs have told the Hendersonville, Tenn., native that he may fit better at another position on offense or swap over to defense, the staff of the Orange & White want to hand Hurd the football and let him carry the load.

"(Jones) wants me at running back," Hurd said. "He wants me to come in and be the big running back. He wants me to play early if I'm ready, and he wants me to be a part of this program."

The TSSAA Class AAA Mr. Football Back of the Year says he will "definitely" come back this spring to see Tennessee practice, as well as other schools.

"I'm going to go to every college I'm looking at's spring practice just to see how they operate as a team and just how they operate on the football field."

Look for him to also see Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Vanderbilt and others.

Given that Tennessee signed just one running back who has a completely different skill set from Hurd for the Class of 2013, the Vols have a slight edge in the depth department since the Volunteer State's best has a clearer path to the starting lineup in 2014 and beyond.

"It's great. When you go into a program, you don't really want to look at the depth chart because you know anywhere you go you're going to have competition, but you …not necessarily going into a program that's recruiting 8 or 9 other tailbacks. It makes you feel a lot better when there's not as many running backs coming into your college."

The Scout300 member is likely to decide on his college between the end of Beech's season and when he enrolls in January. So, eyes all across the country will be on the talent this winter.

The Buccaneers took the TSSAA Class 5A state championship last December with a 56-35 victory over Columbia Central. In his junior season finale, Hurd had 34 carries for 394 yards and seven touchdowns. They finished a perfect 15-0. A shot of Beech's best donning his new ring is below.

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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