Will Vols Reel In Big-Time Pass Rusher?

To the victor belongs the spoils is an axiom often applied to war, but in recruiting wars the victor must continue to toil its fields and foil its foes.

Take Greenwood, Ind., gridiron star J.B. Paxson for example. The nation's No. 2 rated defensive end was in attendance at Saturday's Tennessee-Florida contest and was impressed enough to plan a second visit to Knoxville later this fall. But he also plans to take a visit to Gainesville, Fla., where the vanquished Gators will make their on-campus pitch to the prized prospect. Home state Purdue is also a strong contender with Arizona and Michigan also in the mix.

The Vols have made steady progress with the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Paxson, going from on the fringe of the field to head of the pack over in 90 days. Recruiting coordinator Greg Atkins has played an important role in that process as has UT's Phillip Fulmer and fine facilities.

"I like Coach (Phillip) Fulmer and I saw them this summer," he told The Insiders Jamie Newberg in late July. "They work hard and have fun doing it. The facilities are awesome and they are not even done yet. I also liked the campus a lot."

Tennessee's stock took another upward turn after Paxson contributed to Saturday's record crowd of 109,061 at Neyland Stadium. It was so good he plans to make a third visit to UT.

"I have a visit set for Purdue on November 13th," Paxson told Mike Frank of Irish Eyes.com. "I know I'll be visiting Florida and Tennessee as well. I hope to set those visits soon. All three have offered me. They would be my top three at this point."

Paxson is also being recruited by Michigan and Ohio State of the Big Ten, but he's interested in playing his college football in a warm climate. That's a factor in both Tennessee's and Florida's favor. Additionally, former Florida QB and Indiana native Rex Grossman has been selling Paxson on the Gators.

"It's the south and the most important thing is the warm weather," he said. "When we play in November here in Indiana, it's cold and I don't wear sleeves or gloves. The climate is somewhat important."

In his sophomore and junior seasons at Center Grove High School, Paxson recorded a remarkable 47 sacks. He's behind that pace as a senior as his team has struggled to a 2-3 start.

"We're a young team and we're trying to get it together," he said. "We took a big step backwards last week with our loss to Ben Davis (high school). We're working on getting better.

"I won't lie. My stats are down. Teams have been trying to stay away from me. I think I have six sacks in five games."

Most players would be proud to have statistics like Paxson has posted this season. However he has raised expectations to such a high level with past production that its hard to live up to his own standards. His aggressive style of play, athletic frame and exceptional quickness have drawn comparisons to Georgia all-American defensive end David Pollack.

Paxson has also developed a great reputation behind the plate and is a legitimate baseball prospect who could be taken in the next Major League Baseball Draft. He batted .412 as a junior at Center Grove with six dingers.

His two-sport schedule has hindered Paxson's off-season training, but he has still managed to post respectable numbers in the weight room. He bench presses 320, squats 420 and has a 30-inch vertical. He runs a 4.85 time in the 40 and relentlessly pursues the football.

"I get to the ball and I'm great at pass rushing," he said. "I'm very athletic for my size too. I'm quicker than most offensive linemen and I have quick hands. I have a knack for (getting to) the ball. I want to improve my overall speed and I need to work on my technique. I'd like to shield off blockers better too."

Tragedy struck Paxson's family just before the start of his senior campaign when his father passed away. In light of that loss, he's reordering his life and working on solidifying his academics. He currently carries a 2.6 GPA and an 860 SAT score. Those numbers may have cost him offers at this point from Notre Dame, USC and Michigan.

"It might have to do with my SAT scores," he said. "My score might not be high enough and I'd have to retake that."

It appears Paxson might make a decision before he does anything to expand his options. In other words: His final choice is likely to come down to his three favorites.

"I don't know if I'll take all three of my visits," Paxson said. "I don't think I'll need that many to make my decision."

That sounds like good news for Tennessee.

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