Gunkel: Recruiting season is a wild ride

When it comes to covering recruiting, sometimes it's easier to break down the breakdowns.

The end of National Signing Day is like the beginning of a new year for recruiting reporters. Only instead of dropping a ball on Times Square, we drop an Ambien in our mouths and slump down for a few hours sleep before breaking out out the 2017 class hot boards.

The 2016 recruiting cycle was an adventerous one at InsideTennessee, as we traversed the landscape from Oregon to Oak Ridge to observe, analyze and talk with Tennessee targets across the country. And while it may seem like a well-oiled machine at times, things can —quite literally — come uncapped. 

Take, for instance, this summer, as I drove the interminable highways from south Mississippi to Knoxville to cover Orange Carpet Day, a weekend where Tennessee brings its most prized recruits to Rocky Top for a getaway that involves more celebrity treatment than Sundance. As I trekked up in my Envoy the day before the event, I hit the Georgia line as a plume of smoke bellowed from my engine. I'll be the first to admit I'm not an expert, but when your engine looks like it's puffing seven Marlboro Reds at once it's probably a bad sign. I managed to rumble to the exit of a town whose name I've forgotten on purpose as my car slowed to a stop outside of a closed McDonald's. 

I looked around for any sign of life for about 20 minutes before an F-250 with a confederate flag came roaring up beside me. This wasn't exactly the scene I had in mind for Deliverance 2, but the guy who stepped out made the banjo kid from that movie look like George Clooney. It surprised me, then, that the man saw me break down and handed me the card of a 24-hour tow service. His kindness helped get my car to an auto repair shop and allowed me to type the Monday Mailbag from a dingy hotel as I fought off sleep deprivation and roaches the size of a four-star safety. 

On another trip, this one to Nasvhille for Tennessee's opening game against Bowling Green in Nissan Stadium, I would victimize another car. This time it was my girlfriend's.

My destination was Montgomery Bell Academy to watch Scout four-star running back Ty Chandler under the Friday night lights. I pulled into a gas station about a mile out of Nashville to fuel up on Skittles and shame when I noticed a familiar site: the engine was smoking a cigarette. I called our trusty publisher, Josh Woodward, to dissect the problem and, after popping the hood and seeing a sticky black substance all over the engine, we determined it was radiator fluid. A desperate search for replacement fluid on foot failed, so I finally just dumped a couple bottles of water in there and sweated the drive to his house in Spring Hill.

Under Josh's inspecting eye, we found out the problem: My girlfriend had just gotten her oil changed, and the unamed business (Firestone) forgot to put the cap back on. Because I know as much about cars as I do about women, I never saw it, and Ty Chandler and Ryan Johnson would have to wait another day to be seen by these ugly eyes. 

Our trips are often filled with anecdotes that usually end with me on the verge of seppuku. Others include: 

- Being denied an interview by a sophomore after standing in a snow globe for three hours to watch him play. My souvenir was frostbite.

- Driving through the night on the way to the Tennessee-Missouri game before stopping at a hotel in Carbondale, Illionois. The first thing we see when stepping out is a dead deer strapped to the back of a Santa Fe. It was the best scenery of the trip.

- Watching my co-worker Danny eat 14,000 calories in a Sonic parking lot as our waiter sprinted to deliver orders like he was running from the IRS.

- Realizing in Tampa that a complimentary bar is not a challenge.

As the calendar flips and we turn the page to another recruiting season, more stories of my utter despair will reveal themselves. Danny has his fair share. We wanted to make sure you got a glimpse of the less glamorous side of life as an intrepid recruiting reporter before things pick back up. After all, we are (stupid) humans. 

Camps will slowly come to life in the coming weeks, and by the spring, InsideTennessee will be in full recruiting mode once again. We appreciate you all reading, and I have just one question as the 2017 class begins to take shape.

Can I have a ride? 

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