Vols Aim For Crowning Achievement

Tennessee's task going into national signing day 2004 isn't as nearly as imposing as 2003, when the Vols went wild, landing surprise after surprise and securing a final day haul that included four of kind in Parade All-Americans Robert Meachem, Eric Young, Turk McBride and Bret Smith, plus Arron Sears rated by some as the nation's No. 1 offensive line prospect and defensive lineman Anthony McDaniel the proverbial man among boys.

The Vols weren't favorites for even one of these gridiron talents and only the most rabidly optimistic UT fan figured Knoxville a likely destination for any two of the fab four. In truth, Tennessee's staff wasn't sure about at least three of the four and was shaky on the other. Reportedly, the Vols hadn't even been in successful communication with Arkansas wide receiver Bret Smith in the four weeks leading up to signing day. Smith had actually imposed his own iron curtain to media and schools as phones went unanswered and messages unreturned. Apparently, Tennessee was as much in the dark as the rest of the recruiting world.

Eric Young admits to thinking it was going to be South Carolina up to the point he had a predawn epiphany that swayed him to Tennessee. About the same time in another part of South Carolina, Anthony McDaniel was deciding on Tennessee approximately the same time Phillip Fulmer was awaken from a restless sleep with a feeling something good was in the air. Turk McBride soon followed suit in New Jersey as did Arron Sears in Alabama. Then it was across the Mississippi to Arkansas and Oklahoma where each state's No. 1 prospect were swept up in the Big Orange whirlwind. By the time JC DT Zarnell Fitch faxed his papers to Knoxville, Planet Orange was in seventh heaven and the UT football faithful believed in miracles. Hallelujah.

The signing day sweepstakes vaulted Tennessee from a fringe top 25 recruiting class to a consensus top 10 and helped ease the pain of an injury-plagued 1993 campaign that in retrospect seems as improbable as the Volunteers' sensational closing run.

Tennessee doesn't need that sort of magic on Wednesday but the best case scenario would require some doing and it would probably place the Vols in the neighborhood of 2003 in terms of class ranking. More importantly, it means the Vols would have answered their most pressing needs with promising prospects.

Essentially UT's recruiting class has come to this: the Vols need a quarterback, a defensive tackle, another impact offensive lineman, a cover DB and a big-time linebacker. Today's additions of linebacker Jerod Mayo and DB/WR Inquoris Johnson helped the depth of this class and now the Vols need a crowning achievement.

Reports from prospects indicate UT's coaching staff is in high gear operating in concert and with energy and enthusiasm.

Best Case Scenario: either Robert Ayers or Brian Toal (Hey, he still hasn't said "no,"), either Joe Manning or Tony Carter, Marque Hall or Fred Bledsoe, Brent Schaeffer and Roland Martin.

Worst Case Scenario: Tennessee lands none of the above and choose instead to go with replacement choices such as Lovejoy, Ga., linebacker Keith Boykins, Camden, N.J., defensive tackle Shukree Barfield, Willingboro, N.C., offensive lineman Ell Ash and Pine Bluff, Ark., defensive end Tristian Huskey. It's unlikely UT would offer any of the quarterbacks or wide receivers they have left on their board but there are several that will be encouraged to walk on with the incentive of earning a scholarship.

Mosrt likely Scenario: A happy medium between best and worst scenarios with a couple of marquee names, a sleeper and a surprise.

X-Factor: Yes it's late, but in truth many of the still undecideds are probably genuinely undecided. Robert Ayers said: "I'm gonna pray really hard. I'm still confused. I'm gonna ask God for a decision. I'll take anything as a sign. It's gonna be hard. I'm not gonna make a list or anything. I'm just leaving it up in the air and probably won't know for sure until I actually say it."

That's why you've got to love recruiting.

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