Elite athleticism at all 11 spots is how Butch Jones and Bob Shoop want to build the Tennessee defense.
Signing playmakers like JaCoby Stevens is how they accomplish that. Vols coaches told the Murfreesboro resident that Stevens’ versatility “where I can play the safety, I can play nickel, play dime and come off the edge rushing” are what they find most attractive about the 6-foot-1¼, 200-pounder.
The Scout four-star prospect and No. 67 player in the 2017 class was all smiles after hearing about Tennessee’s plans for him.
“That sounds great,” said Stevens, who visited Rocky Top again just weeks ago. “We were actually watching film of it. It was pretty nice.”
While Shoop and Stevens stay in touch regularly and have known each other for years extending back to when the coordinator was at Vanderbilt, it’s a belief in Jones that Stevens must have if the Vols are going to ink the No. 1-ranked athlete in the Volunteer State.
“I don’t want to say that coach Jones hasn’t been talking to me because he has,” Stevens said. “He’s been trying his hardest but when I did come it was gameday. So you’ve got to understand it’s gameday, hey, he’s focused on the game. (On the junior day), we had great conversations. We shot the breeze by just talking about the campus, how they’re rebuilding. We talked about where he wants me to play — everybody preached the same thing. We talked about basketball. We talked about Ben Simmons against UT. It was just a nice experience talking to coach Jones.”
Tennessee takes the field this fall for its fourth season with Jones at the helm. The Big Orange went 5-7 in his first season, then 7-6 with a TaxSlayer Bowl win and 9-4 with an Outback Bowl victory last year.
The No. 6-ranked athlete in the South has been to Auburn or Georgia in recent months. Coaches from Southeastern Conference programs aren’t going to taper off in their pursuit of the one-time LSU commit anytime soon and their recruitment has “got way more aggressive.”
“The teams, the schools…everybody kind of figured that I was going to go to LSU because I was very high on them,” Stevens said. “I kind of stepped back and said, ‘Hey, I need to take this process more serious,’ and do the things I’m doing now of making sure where these teams want me to play. It’s been better this last go-round.
“UT is coming hard. I’d say, of course, LSU is coming harder. Georgia is coming hard, Alabama. Just about everybody that’s offered before I committed and some of the schools that’s offered after I decommitted, just everybody’s kind of coming hard at me. My DMs are blowing up almost every day with new schools.
“Everybody is still the same. I’m not planning on breaking anyone down until maybe end of my summer, maybe the first two weeks of the football season for me, that’s probably when I’ll start breaking everything down and saying, ‘These are the 5-6 teams I need to pay attention to.’”
Stevens, who competes in track and field this spring, grew up with Tennessee basketball signee Jordan Bone. The pair were at Ensworth School in Nashville during Stevens’ freshman year before a transfer to Oakland.