Top Center To Visit Vols

With Tennessee's top two centers both seniors, the search is on for an anchor with advanced skills to step into the offensive front.

The Vols have located the ideal candidate in Josh McNeil of Collins High School in Collins, Miss. The problem is so has the rest of the college football world. Competition was limited to SEC schools Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Tennessee until McNeil recently announced an official visit to USC on Nov. 27.

"I like Florida, Mississippi State, LSU, Southern Cal and Tennessee," McNeil told Ryan Jordan of "All of them have offered. USC is my latest offer, and they gave me that a few weeks back."

The importance of the center position has been underscored this year as Jason Respert assumed the role vacated by four-year starter Scott Wells. Despite his lack of experience, Respert had proved very capable in the middle. However, he missed the Notre Dame game with an ankle sprain and was replaced by fifth-year center Chuck Prugh who misfired on a couple of shotgun snaps that proved critical to the outcome. The first low snap led to the tackle that knocked quarterback Erik Ainge out of action with a shoulder sprain on the last play of the first half. The second came on first down of the Vols last possession of the game and resulted in a 12-yard loss.

McNeil's experience as a four-year starter is augmented by excellent technique and an in-depth understanding of a center's job. At 6-foot, 275 pounds with a 375-pound bench press, 500-pound squat, 285-pound power clean and 5.0 speed, McNeil can mix it up with tackles as well as get out on the second level to seal off linebackers. He recorded 116 pancake blocks as a junior to earn all-state honors. In the final game of his senior season, he graded out 100 percent with 14 pancakes as Collins finished with an 8-3 mark.

McNeil is an outstanding leader and excellent student with a 3.8 GPA and a 20 on his ACT. He's also a student of the game who studies film and identifies defenses with ease. In other words: He's the perfect fit for a huge hole in UT's O-line. A high-priority target that Coach Phillip Fulmer has taken a personal role in recruiting.

"I enjoy talking to Coach Fulmer," McNeil when Jordan asked what he liked about UT. "I like their facilities and they're in the lead for the SEC east right now."

After taking official visits to Florida on Oct. 1 and Mississippi State on Oct. 22, McNeil was in Baton Rogue last week for the Tigers game against Alabama. He goes to the west coast on Thanksgiving weekend and takes his fifth and final official visit to Knoxville on Dec. 19.

As long as the nation's top center doesn't make any snap decisions, Tennessee will get the last shot.

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