Early enrollees

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Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is bringing in 14 mid-term signees this winter, believed to be the largest class of early enrollees in modern program history.

Most of them are 17 and 18 year olds who are still maturing – physically, mentally and emotionally. They should be preparing for the senior prom, not preparing for spring practice. Basically, they are being asked to grow up fast.

"Some of these individuals are 17 years old and going away to college for the first time," Jones noted recently. "Everything is changing for them – their friends, the expectations, the work volume of being in a collegiate setting with academics, the offseason strength and conditioning. We are going to have to rely on our older players to nurture them so to speak and bring them along."

Ready or not, though, the 14 newcomers should benefit from getting a head start on Tennessee's other Class of 2014 signees. The opportunity to participate in 14 spring practices and a spring game is just one of the potential advantages for early enrollees.

Noting that there are "many benefits" to enrolling early, Jones went on to list a few:

"They gain spring football. They actually gain a half of year of eligibility. When August rolls around, they understand the standard, the expectations, the style of play. Physically they are able to develop. They are able to develop from a mental toughness standpoint but also understanding the playbook."

Obviously, having an additional six months to grasp the assignments, the techniques and the schemes is a positive.

"It really helps the learning curve and all that you do, mentally and physically," Jones said. "It builds team bonds and chemistry. It builds an overall comfort level. The advantages are endless. It (enrolling early) is invaluable."

Josh Malone may be the most talented member of a deep 2014 signing class for the Volunteers.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
The head coach is counting on some of the mid-term enrollees to upgrade a receiver corps that was woefully inept in 2013. Junior college star Von Pearson, who signed Dec. 18, should start from Day 1. Heralded high school signee Josh Malone could make immediate impact, as well.

"I think we are taking a monumental step at the receiver position to playing football the way we want to play here," Jones said.

Immediate help also is coming for a depleted offensive line in the form of JUCO standout Dontavius Blair (signed Dec. 18), plus recent high school grads Coleman Thomas and Ray Raulerson. The D-line hopes to get a boost from JUCO tackle Owen Williams (signed Dec. 18), plus freshman ends Dimarya Mixon and Joseph Henderson.

Mid-term enrollees also project to provide an immediate upgrade at tight end (Ethan Wolf, Daniel Helm) and cornerback (Emmanuel Moseley, D'Andre Payne).

The value of a spring practice cannot be overstated. Seven recent mid-term enrollees took advantage of the head start and wound up starting as true freshmen for Tennessee in the past four years. They were offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James (all 13 games in 2010), quarterback Tyler Bray (five games in 2010), fullback Channing Fugate (five games in 2010), defensive end Corey Miller (two games in 2010), guard Marcus Jackson (five games in 2011), cornerback Justin Coleman (four games in 2011) and quarterback Justin Worley (three games in 2011).

Two early enrollees from the junior-college ranks also parlayed spring practice into first-year starting jobs during that span. Quarterback Matt Simms started eight games in 2010 and defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore started nine in 2012.

So, which of the 14 early enrollees are most likely to make immediate impact? Due to mental and physical maturity, the odds favor the three JUCO transfers who signed Dec. 18. They are:

1 Dontavius Blair, four-star OT

2 Von Pearson, four-star WR

3 Owen Williams, two-star DT

Given Tennessee's glaring lack of depth on both sides of the ball, the Vols also need instant impact from several of the 11 high school graduates who are due to enroll this week. They are:

1 Jalen Hurd, four-star RB

2 Josh Malone, four-star WR

3 Jakob Johnson, three-star LB

4 Coleman Thomas, three-star C

5 Emmanuel Moseley, three-star CB

6 Ethan Wolf, four-star TE

7 Daniel Helm, four-star TE

8 D'Andre Payne, four-star CB

9 Ray Raulerson, three-star OT

10 Joseph Henderson, three-star DE

11 Dimarya Mixon, three-star DE

Mixon originally signed with Nebraska in 2013 but secured a release and sat out the 2013-14 season.

These 14 able-bodied newcomers should go a long way toward bolstering a Vol roster that was perilously short on depth last fall. Tennessee's head man is understandably elated about the 14 mid-term enrollees, along with the 20 or so prospects due to join the fold in February.

"We have upgraded in every single position," Jones said. "We just have to make sure that we guard against not placing too many expectations on this incoming class. They are still 17- and 18-year-old young adults – very, very talented but very, very young."

Daniel Helm

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