Recruiting Roundup: ‘Touchdown' Tennessee?

"Touchdown" Toney Baker, the nation's No. 5 rated running back, says he has "made up his mind" and will announce his choice of schools at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio on Jan. 15.

The national high school all-star contest, sponsored by Scout.com, will be nationally televised and has been designated by a substantial number of high profile prospects as the place they will make their decisions public. The anticipation of such significant commitments and a chance to see the nation's best prospects in action is sure to drive TV ratings skyward.

Baker, of Jamestown, N.C., broke the state's career rushing record as a senior and had 52 yards in 14 carries in the recent Carolina Shrine Bowl. While the total isn't particularly impressive, Baker was. The O-line only opened two holes, but he still managed to break 30 tackles while averaging 3.7 yards per carry. He was also one of the most dominate prospects during the week of practice leading up to the game and wasn't disappointed with his rushing total.

"Not at all," Baker told Scout.com's Don Callahan. "You know this is a different level and if you think about it our offense had about a week to get our timing down. You know it takes a lot more time than that. It was a defensive ball game, and they made some plays on defense and they were able to put points on the board because of that."

Touchdown Toney earned his nickname after rushing for 2,007 yards and 32 TDs as a sophomore. The five-star prospect upped that total to 3,411 yards as junior. He was voted all-state four consecutive years and is one of 17 prospects on the watch list for national player of the year.

Baker's final five schools are also his first five as he has consistently listed North Carolina State, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Tennessee as his favorites. He has only officially visited N.C. State although he knows all five programs well from unofficial visits. He said official visits wouldn't be the deciding factor for him but also admitted the trip to Raleigh helped him get to know team members much better.

"I have been evaluating all these schools since I was a freshman, so I know what's going on," Baker told Callahan. "I sort of know what I want to do; I'm just going to announce it at the game."

Baker didn't rule out taking official visits before leaving for San Antonio on Jan. 9, although that seems less likely now that his mind is apparently made up.

The 5-foot-10, 218-pound Baker has that dangerous combination of power, size speed, but he also has great balance, good vision and some spectacular open field moves. He runs a 4.45 time in the 40, bench presses 420 pounds and owns a 34-inch vertical leap.

Tennessee has a commitment from Antioch's Lamar's Coker and was hoping to add another young tailback to impact a position that already has decent depth with Gerald Riggs Jr. and redshirt freshmen JaKouri Williams and Arian Foster. However if one of that trio decides not to return or otherwise becomes ineligible and the Vols would quickly be down to three backs before injuries take their inevitable toll.

Baker and the No. 1 rated Jonathan Stewart are tops on UT's list and either would be a perfect complement for Coker who is a home run back and rated No. 6 in the nation at his position. Being much closer to Knoxville, Baker seemed the more likely of the two to choose UT. However, N.C. State may have the edge given that the Pack gained his only official visit.

On the positive side, Tennessee has recruited North Carolina very well thanks to the efforts of Dan Brooks and the Vols recently stopped calling Atlanta Douglass High High School star tailback James Davis, who now makes Clemson as to the team to beat. Davis is rated No. 23 in the nation and it's not known whether he'll keep a planned Jan. 21 visit to UT, assuming the Vols are still interested in the 6-foot, 205-pound tailback with 4.5 speed who rushed for 2,300 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior.

According to Scout.com, the Vols have extended offers to only two other running backs — Carl Taylor of Dallas, Texas and Tyrell Fenroy of Lake Charles, La. One or both of those non-rated tailbacks may be viewed as DBs or return specialists by Tennessee's coaching staff.

Any other running backs UT is recruiting have already committed to other schools with the exception of Baker and Stewart. To some discernible degree that reinforces the notion the Vols wouldn't have gone cold on Davis without some assurance they would sign either Baker or Stewart.

Another possibility at running back is Montario Hardesty, 6-2, 196, 4,50 of New Bern, N.C., who is rated the nation's No. 14 cornerback but has been a star running back in high school and split reps with Baker in the Shrine Bowl. He rushed for 2,050 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior and recorded a 10.36 time in the 100 meters last spring. He is scheduled to make an official visit to Tennessee on Jan. 14 and has UT, North Carolina and Georgia Tech as his leaders. He was scheduled to announce his choice on Dec. 8, but is still contemplating his decision.

In other recruiting news, the Vols are making major progress toward rebuilding their secondary thanks to talent-rich Florida.

• No. 6 cornerback Bryan Evans still doesn't name a leader but recently told Scout.com that Tennessee, Georgia and LSU are ahead of Florida State and Florida. That's significant since he is from Jacksonville, Fla.

• UT already has a commitment from No. 3 corner Demetrice Morley of Miami that continues to hold despite speculation he might be considering other schools. Morley originally committed to Florida before the coaching change and maybe revisiting that decision with Urban Meyer at the Gator helm.

• Tennessee remains in the running for the nation's No. 1 safety, Kenneth Phillips, of Miami Coral City High School. The 6-2, 195, DB could start at UT immediately and upgrade a problem position.

• The Vols have offered a couple of other safeties from the Sunshine State in No. 34 Gerrod Sinclair, of Jacksonville, and No. 48 Ray Herring, of Melbourne.


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