Will UT Make Mikell's Cut?

Tennessee is expected to find out whether it has made the first cut with Harrisburg, Pa., running back Mikell Simpson this week when the four-star prospect begins paring down a long list of high-caliber contenders.

"I want to see where things stand on Aug. 16, when we put our pads on for preseason practice," Simpson said in a recent Insider's interview. "I want it to be down to 10 teams then. I‘ll talk to the coaches from those 10 schools, then narrow it down to five and take five official visits."

North Carolina, Connecticut, Syracuse, Louisville, UCLA, Michigan State, Indiana, Boston College, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Virginia, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Rutgers, Ohio State and Notre Dame are some of the schools that have offered scholarships that Simpson is currently considering. Pennsylvania pigskin powers Pittsburgh and Penn State are expected to join the fray before all is said and done.

Simpson's stock took a sharp rise over the summer after he received an 890 on his SAT which combined with his 2.9 GPA makes him a full qualifier. He had already piqued scouts' interest last spring at a Nike Camp held at Penn State after running a 4.4 time in the 40. registering a 31-inch vertical leap and recording 18 reps of 185 pounds in the bench press. Rated the state's No. 14 prospect, Simpson has run a 10.8 time in 100 meters and a 22.7 in the 200. He benches 275 and squats 425.

That athleticism and versatility was also displayed by the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Simpson at Harrisburg last season when he gained 1,382 yards on offense (862 yards rushing, 520 yards receiving) and scored 17 touchdowns. He also starred on defense at safety with 57 tackles and five interceptions. Several schools have offered him as a defensive back.

"Boston College offered me on defense and Nebraska said I would have a chance to play both ways," he said. "I think as a running back, I have a chance to create mismatches with the defense because of my speed. I think it's hard for linebackers to cover me when I come out of the backfield.

"I'm a good athlete and catch good in the backfield. I'm fast on the outside and I can weasel my way through. I'm a big-play back with finesse and speed. I want to get stronger and bulk up so I can break tackles better. I also want to make better cuts."

Speaking of cuts, Simpson figures to make his based on a primary factor.

"Playing time," he stated. "That's going to be the main ingredient…whether I can come in as a freshman and play and how I'll fit in. Location isn't going to really be factor, I'll probably end up out of state because none of the in-state schools are showing much love."

There's plenty of love coming from outside the Keystone State for Simpson and there might be a few hearts broken when he begins his elimination process.

"I'm going to try and narrow it down to 10 by Monday (today)…then I'll get it down to 5 during the season," he said. "Then I'll wait and make my final decision on signing day. That's definitely what I'm going to wait until I make my decision, unless something drastically changes on one of my visits."

Harrisburg enters the 2004 campaign ranked No. 5 in preseason polls which might translate to a long season. That could mean Simpson will have to wait until January to make most of his visits.

"I plan on taking all five," Simpson said of his official visits. "I'll probably have to do that after my season. We're are ranked fifth this year so we could be playing in late December so I'll probably have to do that after my season. I'll probably announce on signing day."

Simpson can afford to wait because most college coaches will find it difficult to walk away from his speed and diversity. In that respect he's like another Pennsylvania product who play at Tennessee — Mark Jones.

"They tell me that they like how I can create mismatches with my speed," Simpson said of the coaches recruiting him. "They say I catch the ball really well out of the backfield and that I can use my speed to get around people."

Simpson has also used his speed to draw plenty of admirers.

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