Butch, Vols flex 'national brand' muscles

Tennessee beat out Ohio State and Rutgers for an elite talent on Wednesday. Read about how it was done, how important relationships are in recruiting, how it may affect Scout five-star prospects and more.

Sometimes the hats left on the table for declaration ceremonies can tell the story within the story.

New Jersey’s best junior quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano, placed an orange cap on his head Wednesday, leaving caps for the Ohio State Buckeyes and Rutgers Scarlet Knights stranded on a black table cloth alongside TV station microphones.

Guarantano is a Rutgers legacy target with a father who is near the program’s all-time leader chart for receiving. At Ohio State, Urban Meyer is 38-3 with a College Football Playoff National Championship. At Tennessee, Butch Jones is 12-13 with a TaxSlayer Bowl trophy.

“Tennessee is a national brand,” Butch Jones told InsideTennessee. “We’re getting into a position now to where we feel we can go anywhere and people understand what we’re building here at Tennessee. We have a brand, we have a program that should be attractive coast-to-coast.”

In spite of the odds, Tennessee reached its arm well out of region to snag one of the East’s premier talents, giving Jones a victory over Meyer that isn’t often seen, especially when the Buckeyes have a proximity advantage and a newly minted, knuckle-touching diamond ring.

“Whenever you beat Urban Meyer, whenever you beat a program like Ohio State for a kid— just like when Urban was at Florida and recruiting well — it’s a great sign,” Scout national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn said. “I mean it's great. You don't get caught up over one guy but knowing what Tennessee needs at quarterback, it was really important that they get this guy. And I think it does send a little bit of a message that it's not just a slam-dunk.

“You’ve got to remember, Ohio State got three kids out of Jersey recently — Eli Apple, Darius Slade, Noah Brown — and got a kid — Curtis Samuel — out of New York. So people know who Ohio State is. For Tennessee to just come in and kind of be like…you know they haven’t been a factor (in the East Region).

Ohio State assistant coach Zach Smith's tweet Wednesday showed some emotion.

“I've been with Scout for almost 6 years now, and I don't remember (Tennessee) coming up here much. So to be able to land a kid like that is huge. Then, you beat Ohio State, the national champion, yeah. I go back to the relationship of Guarantano’s dad with Butch Jones. I mean that’s what sets it all off.”

Scheduled to return in 2016 (among others), the Buckeyes have would-be senior Cardale Jones, juniors J.T. Barrett and Stephen Collier as well as second-years Joey Burrow and Torrance Gibson.

Guarantano, who is the highest-rated quarterback commit for the Big Orange since Jonathan Crompton (2005), could redshirt his first season on campus at Tennessee and compete for the vacant starting job in 2017 with unproven 2015 class signees Quinten Dormady, Jauan Jennings and Sheriron Jones following Joshua Dobbs’ graduation.

While some — evidently including staff members in Columbus — believe that depth chart concerns drove the Scout four-star to Knoxville instead of joining the Big Ten champions, it was Jones’ 20-plus-year relationship with the quarterback’s father, James Guarantano, that helped seal the deal. The pair were both at Rutgers in the early 1990s.

“First of all, you have to rule out the competition factor,” Dohn said, “because pretty much wherever you go, you are going to have competition. There's going to be kids in the program that you have to play against.

“It goes back to what people just refuse to believe when it comes to recruiting: It’s about relationships. The biggest factor in recruiting is relationships. Butch Jones and Jarrett Guarantano’s dad have known each other for 20-plus years. So there is a lot of trust there.”

From Michigan’s Donnie Corley to Georgia’s Mecole Hardman to North Carolina’s Diondre Overton, the Vols have targets on the backs of some of the premier wide receivers in the country in Guarantano’s 2016 class. Having the Scout No. 7-rated quarterback on the commitment list can only help the pursuit of such pass-catchers.

Paramus Catholic's Rashan Gary is Scout's No. 1-rated player in the country for the 2016 class.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)

“I think that's huge because all these kids want to know who is going to be throwing them the ball,” Dohn said. “Now, Jarrett Guarantano, who is one of the more active kids on social media that there is, is out there selling the brand. ‘Hey, come here and I'm going to be throwing the ball to you for 3-4 years.’ He's very identifiable and I think that's huge and I think it's why quarterback recruiting is such a big factor because the quarterbacks are so influential in being the faces of recruiting classes.”

Rashan Gary is at the top of most prominent programs’ wish lists and is Scout’s No. 1 player in America. The five-star defensive tackle got his Tennessee scholarship offer over a year ago. Gary’s Paramus Catholic High School is roughly 21,000 feet from Guarantano’s Bergen Catholic.

While Gary and five-star running back Kareem Walker are expected to make college decisions independent of Guarantano, the quarterback’s trust for the staff and willingness to head South could at least open an avenue for an official or unofficial visit to Tennessee from Gary or Walker.

“Jersey is rich in the northern part of the state where (Guarantano) is from," Dohn said. “There are a lot of good players up there, and he is coming from a marquee program in the state. So it means that Tennessee will have some visibility in New Jersey and that can only help. ‘Hey this guy went to Tennessee, maybe I will look now.’

“I don't think it is one of those open-the-floodgates type of deals, but if it is the right kid and the right fit, there’s that avenue. There's that thought process of, ‘Yeah, I can do that too.’”

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