In-State Numbers Add Up To UT Bonanza

Tennessee fans don't get very excited at the thought of signing a top 400 national football prospect, but the nucleus of championship teams are more frequently formed by players rated between 101 and 400 than by top 100 players.

Sure, it's important to sign a few from the nation's cream of the recruiting crop if you're going to compete to titles, but simple division shows how difficult that is to do on a consistent basis. With 113 Division I teams in the NCAA, there's enough top 400 prospects for each program to sign roughly 3.5 from that list each year. Over four years that adds up to 14 top 400 prospects per school if distributed evenly, which is barely enough to field one first unit, much less a two-deep depth chart on both sides of the line.

To fill out a depth chart comprised completely of top 400 players, a school would have to ink 11 such prospects each season at the correct positions without losing a single one of those players to injuries, academics, discipline problems or early entry into the NFL Draft. And it doesn't even count kickers or punters which are critical to any team's success.

Such recruiting success also presumes that every prospect lives up to their individual potential which is a preposterous presumption since so many fall short of their projected promise. For instance: Tennessee's most glaring needs going into fall practice are at quarterback and running back, although the Vols have five tailbacks that were rated among the top 10 at their position in their respective classes. Included in that group are No. 2 Jabari Davis, No. 3 Gerald Riggs Jr., No. 4 Derrick Tinsley, No. 7 Cedric Houston and No. 7 JaKouri Williams.

Likewise, the Vols have three quarterbacks that were rated among the nation's top 20 prospects at their high profile positions, including: No. 8 C.J. Leak, No. 11 Brent Schaeffer and No. 19 Erik Ainge.

Two years ago Tennessee signed seven Parade All-Americans — which allegedly represent the top 50 players nationally. Three of those seven players are no longer with the team and two — Heath Benedict and Brandon Jeffries — never got into a game. Jonathan Mapu became a starter last year before leaving for a two-year Mormon mission. James Banks was suspended from the team last spring and is a question mark going into the fall. Riggs has yet to start a game in two seasons and hasn't played a significant role for UT. Rob Smith projects as a starter in the offensive line this fall after redshirting his sophomore year and James Wilhoit looks like a potential college all-American.

In that same class, Tennessee signed the nation's No. 3 rated tight end in Aaron Kirkland, who was dismissed from the squad last year. They also signed highly regarded fullback Ruben Mayes who was also dismissed and transferred to Grambling where he became an offensive mainstay as a rookie. Four years ago UT signed the nation's No. 1 rated safety O.J. Owens who never started a single game in four years on the Hill before transferring to Western Carolina during the off season. Then there are other such recent disappointments like Onterio Smith, Sterling Kazee, Greg Barnum and Lynn McGruder.

The point is that even when you do an outstanding job of recruiting, you still have to successfully retain and develop players which depends as much on the prospect's attitude as it does his talent. The further you have to go to find top prospects the greater the risk you incur of losing them or landing a loser when it comes to desire or dedication, two areas that are nearly impossible to appraise from game tape. It's also a daunting task to develop the type of relationships with enough out of state high school coaches to get reliable information on a particular prospect's attitude and idiosyncrasies.

Conversely, when you have the good fortune to form your recruiting base each season from your home state you have a network of coaches that can provide info and cross references on prospects thus eliminating a lot of questions regarding the X-factor.

That's what makes the Class of 2005 a potential talent windfall for the Vols. Last year Tennessee had fewer top 400 prospects in the state than any other SEC member school with three. This year there will be as many as 15 in-state prospects that project as top 400. If UT can sign 10 of those then half of the Class of 2005 will be formed by in-state prospects. That frees UT's coaches to target specific needs out of state, as opposed to developing its recruiting base beyond the Volunteer State's borders.

Sure a top 400 prospect might not make Big Orange fan's pulse race but considering that an average of 2,600 prospects sign D-I scholarships each year, it's a major boost to the Vols. Plus fans have to love a Tennessee signing class comprised mainly of Tennesseans.

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