Vols in Bold Battle For Bledsoe

Getting a stellar out-of-state football prospect, particularly in the south, is little like trying to pull an impacted wisdom tooth with a pair of chop sticks. It other words: it's a slow, tedious, excruciatingly painful process.

Welcome to the world of Tennessee football recruiting where to maintain their competitive viability, the Vols are forced to troll the talent pools of such border states as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Arkansas.

True, UT also fishes waters throughout the continental U.S. and beyond, but the further you get from home the greater the odds of landing a big-time talent. Therefore, Tennessee's strategy is shut down the border of the Volunteer State to gridiron marauders while establishing enough inroads in nearby states to score quick strikes.

As the strength of neighboring schools fluctuates, UT coaches have to be flexible enough to move to other locales. As a result, Arkansas has offered opportunities since the Razorbacks joined the SEC. And unlike the other aforementioned states, the University of Arkansas is the only major D-I football program in it state. With the opposition cut in half the competition's chances of success should exponentially increase two fold.

The Vols have gained signatures from such prominent performers, and former Arkansas high school prospects, as Reggie Coleman, Cedric Houston, Greg Jones and Brett Smith. Roshaun Fellows is a redshirt freshman expected to compete for playing time at corner this spring and James Turner of Augusta, Ark., is currently committed to Tennessee.

The Vols competed for the state's biggest prize, Peyton Hillis, but couldn't overcome the Hogs' strong home state advantage. Now they appear ready to go to the mat with Arkansas for Fred Bledsoe, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle from Little Rock Central High School. Blessed with excellent agility — he plays basketball too — and 4.79 speed, Bledsoe is a defensive playmaker who intercepted three passes as a senior for the State Champion Tigers and is seen as a player who could contribute at tight end. Moreover, he has traits that are sure to remind Tennessee fans of former Vols Sean Ellis and John Henderson.

Arkansas' coaching staff is putting a full-court press on Bledsoe with an in-home visit Saturday that will, reportedly, include most of the staff. It's a tactic that worked successfully when the Hogs held on to West Memphis back D'arrius Howard, but failed with Cedric Houston. UA has also offered Central teammate Fred Fairchild (linebacker) a scholarship and have three of Bledsoe's former teammates already on its roster who have been working the big man. Additionally, coach Houston Nutt and assistant Danny Nutt have also played their LR Central connection to the hilt as both men are alumni of the historic high school.

It's a tall order for UT assistant Steve Caldwell who has done yeoman's work in Arkansas and Mississippi this year. In-state sources know that this is a close one, but believe Arkansas' late momentum will overcome the quiet, steady pace Caldwell has taken to establish a relationship with Bledsoe and his family.

In a conversation on Thursday, Bledsoe admitted that impending decision is becoming much more "agonizing" than he would have ever imagined. He plans to announce his decision at a 4:00 p.m. cst press conference at his high school.

If Tennessee's lands Bledsoe it will be a major upset, but so was signing Smith and Houston who were both high school all-Americans.


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