Vols Search Florida for Weapons

Florida has more blue chip high school football prospects per square mile than any state in the nation, but Tennessee failed to secure a single player from the Sunshine State in its Class of 2003.

Similarly, the Vols came away with but one prospect from Florida in 2002, wide receiver Chris Hannon, and haven't landed a top 100 prospect from Florida since Constantin Ritzmann in 1999.

Sporting News rates 13 players from Florida in the top 100 prospects nationally this year, including a pair of talented quarterbacks. The Insiders has three QBs from the Sunshine State in it's top 10 nationally in No. 6 Drew Weatherford, No. 8 Xavier Lee and No. 10 Cornelius Ingram. Florida can also boast of two of the nation's top three linebacker prospects in Willie Williams of Miami and Keith Rivers of Lake Mary. It has the nation's No. 2 wide receiver in Melbourne's Xavier Carter along with the No. 2 running back, Charlie Jones of Homestead, Fla.

In their never-ending search for WMP (Weapons of Mass Production), the Volunteers would like to reach into the land of citrus this fall and harvest an overdue share of football's finest fruit. Leading this search will be Tennessee offensive line coach, Florida native and longtime procurer of pigskin prodigies Jimmy Ray Stephens. If he can sell a couple of offensive play-makers on Tennessee, he'll make his job, and that of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, a lot easier.

Obviously, with four-year starter Casey Clausen in his senior year, quarterbacks are first on Tennessee's list and the Vols made a run at all three of Florida's top 10 talents. Unfortunately, Weatherford committed to Florida State last week and Lee is expected to follow suit soon. He recently eliminated Tennessee from his finalists. Likewise, Chad Henne recently announced for Michigan after considering Tennessee, Penn State, Miami and Georgia.

However UT remains in contention for Ingram, a two-sport star who threw for 1,456 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior and averaged 25 points per game as a shooting guard for Hawthorne. The 6-4, 195-pound senior runs a 4.63 time in the 40 and recently participated in the Elite 11 Camp for the nation's top signal callers. He plans to play both basketball and football at the next level and list Tennessee as a favorite along with Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Kentucky.

It's debatable whether Ingram would help Tennessee's football team more than the basketball team, but there's little doubt that playing QB and basketball at the collegiate level is difficult at best. Charlie Ward pulled it off at FSU, but Curry struggled in both sports at North Carolina.

That fact alone makes Ingram less than the ideal candidate for a team that needs a quarterback to develop quickly, but the number of top 10 QBs the Vols are involved with is diminishing rapidly. Besides, Ingram believes he has more to offer than of his Florida counterparts.

"I feel like I was the best quarterback here," he told David Peters of theTerritory.org after a Nike Camp appearance. "Xavier (Lee) and Drew (Weatherford) were very good. They both can really throw the ball. But, I feel like I have an advantage because of my footwork, and no offense to them but I can move a little better than those guys. I have a strong arm and I can do it all."

Tennessee is still involved with Chase Patton a former top 10 ranked quarterback prospect from Columbia, Mo., who didn't show well at the Elite 11 Camp, raising some questions as to how soon he'll be ready to assume command of an offense at a high profile program.

The Vols are in the running for No. 3 Anthony Morelli of Pittsburgh, Pa., but Pittsburgh is considered his favorite and nine other schools remain in contention.

UT was in the chase for the No. 7 QB Bobby Reid of Galena Park, Texas, until he recently committed to Oklahoma State. Add it all up and it makes Ingram a prospect of great interest to the Vols.

Elsewhere in Florida, Tennessee is an early finalists for Xavier Carter, a 6-3, 195, wideout with blazing 4.35 speed. He is also considering LSU, Florida, Miami, South Carolina and UCLA.

Charlie Jones is also listing UT along with Miami, Florida, North Carolina State, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Jones, 5-11, 205, rushed for 1,570 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior.

It's hard to make a living competing against FSU, Florida and Miami on their home turf, but the rewards are worth the risks.


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