Coaches inform Sanders of importance

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Football I.Q. Pedigree. Top-notch program. College-level skills.

Few boxes are left unchecked when C.J. Sanders ' name is brought up. Thus, it's easy to see why Tennessee continues to pursue the Brentwood Academy wide receiver.

The 5-foot-9, 177-pounder that first got his Vols offer his freshman year took part in a junior day last weekend in Knoxville. It was a chance for him to get close with the coaches, play cornhole and mesh with Tennessee commitments.

"Academics are very important to me and they showed how the academics are rising more and more each year," Sanders said. "That side of it really impressed me as well. Then, just the coaches and having the day to grow closer to them…I think it was pretty cool. I had a lot of fun."

Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is in the process of developing a bond with the pass-catcher.

"He's awesome," Sanders said of the former Florida and Wisconsin assistant. "I just feel like we were able to bond more through cornhole, like I said, and things like that. Just building a relationship. I think that's what it's going to come down to."

The drive over from Nashville to Rocky Top makes the twice since September as Sanders was in attendance to see the Volunteers play Western Kentucky at Neyland Stadium. He noted the school's academics, athletics and facilities.

"I think they all tie together," the Scout three-star prospect said. "The stadium, the fan base…it all ties into play. I've loved my visit, and I think my friends did, too. So, I'm just going to soak it all in."

The staff continues its search to find shifty playmakers to give offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian as many weapons as possible. Sanders is seen as a player who could work the underneath routes and annoy opposing linebackers and nickelbacks.

"They say the slot type, getting the ball in my hands, creating plays," he said. "That's all coming into play. As time goes by, I'm going to talk to coach Z more. We're going to sit down, but he's just showing me the basics so far. What they've said thus far is pretty cool, so I'm enjoying it."

In February, the Vols signed fellow Eagle Derek Barnett and former teammate RaShaan Gaulden. Tennessee also plucked Montgomery Bell Academy's Jashon Robertson and Ensworth's Michael Sawyers from that Nashville area.

"It kind of comes into play because you know I go to school with Derek," Sanders said. "He tells me how he feels about the school — the tradition and things like that. Derek's a leader; he was a leader on our team. I respect him greatly. So, I really pay attention to what he has to say."

Other schools with offers on the table include Duke, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Ole Miss, Stanford and Vanderbilt.

"A lot of schools are coming into play right now. I think offers are about to happen," he said.

A three-day visit at Stanford in late November helped him learn more about the Cardinal as he says he saw what gameday in Palo Alto is like and how he'd blend with the roster as he stayed in the campus dorms.

"It was a pretty big unofficial," he said. "Stanford was a good experience. I got to see them play Notre Dame and had fun there."

A return trip to Knoxville for an official visit is likely "just to see what the team is like."

"They made it clear I'm one of their top slot targets," Sanders said. "I think that's a blessing to be in that position. So, I'm just going to soak it in and come up here again pretty soon and see how everything is."

The No. 52 wide receiver in the 2015 class says he will visit other schools but currently has no plans. One possibility is a trip to Durham, N.C., to check out the Duke spring game at Wallace Wade Stadium on March 1.

Sanders has seven scholarship offers with Northwestern being the most recent and Notre Dame possibly being next. He doesn't have a list of top schools but reiterated he enjoyed himself in trips to both Stanford and Tennessee.

In his junior season, team captain caught 43 passes for 665 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also returned three punts for 113 yards and a score. That production resulted his being a TSSAA Division II Class AA Mr. Football Back of the Year finalist.

Coach Cody White's Eagles finished 8-4 in 2013, reaching the state semifinals before falling to eventual champion Ensworth 21-12.

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 Scout team July 2011.
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