Vols in Hot Pursuit of Slick Receiver

There are higher rated wide receivers in the Class of 2005 than Slick Shelley of Fort Smith, Ark., but none that can match his pure production and clear consistency over the last three seasons.

As a three-year starter at Southside High School competing in the Natural State's highest classification of football, Shelley was better than money. He was the gridiron gold standard.

Shelley burst on the high school football scene as an unseasoned sophomore, catching 56 passes for 1,019 yards and 15 touchdowns. As a junior, he upped his reception total to 62 and his TD total to 16, leading the Rebels to the Class-5A State Championship.

He entered his senior campaign against almost impossible-to-meet expectations to say nothing of constant double-team coverage. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Shelley also battled an assortment of injuries that cost him a couple of games and was one of Southside's few returning stars from the state title team. Despite these challenges and an inexperienced quarterback, Shelley caught a career-high 74 passes for 860 yards and eight touchdowns in a disappointing 3-6-1 campaign. He also played full-time at cornerback as well as returned kicks.

"What can you say about Slick?," Southside head coach Barry Lunney said. "He's just a talented young man who goes out there and gives us everything he has."

Shelley's career totals are 192 receptions for 2,752 yards and 39 touchdowns for an average season of 64 catches, 917 yards and 13 TDs. Throughout his high school career he averaged nearly six catches per contest for 75 yards and 1.1 touchdowns.

With that type of track record there should have been nothing surprising about his performance in the recent U.S. Army All-American Bowl in which he surpassed the performances of several higher rated wide receivers by catching four passes for 37 yards and a 13-yard TD in the second quarter. Compare that to No. 1 rated wide receiver Patrick Turner who had two catches for six yards in the game.

"These are memories that I will never forget," Shelley told Hawg Illustrated's Dudley Dawson after the nationally televised contest, "especially getting into the end zone and scoring on a day when there are 80 or so of the best players in the nation. That is a time to come out and prove yourself against the best. I think that's what I did and God just blessed me to let me get into the end zone."

When interviewed on the field of the Alamodome by this writer, Shelley emphasized the U.S. Army Bowl had added significance for him since he grew up in a military family. He appreciated the pregame ceremonies that featured honored military personnel and embraces the values expoused in the Army creed. "It was an honor to be a part of this experience," he said. "I'm glad I got a chance to show what I could do, but being apart of something this special is what it's really all about."

One week after his successful outing, Shelley took an official visit to LSU and will be in Knoxville this weekend. Those are the only two official visits Shelley has taken due to a demanding basketball schedule and his sense of obligation to his team.

The Vols and Tigers are locked in an intense battle for his services since Shelley is the highest rated receiver (No. 20) still not committed. His value increased dramatically for UT after the aforementioned Turner declared for the USC Trojans last week. The Vols did not sign a wideout in the Class of 2004 and have yet to commit one this year, making Slick a very hot commodity.

How hot is he?

Consider that one week before national signing day, Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer was in Fort Smith for an in-home visit on Tuesday and returned Thursday to see Shelley during a basketball practice at his high school. LSU head coach Les Miles is slated for an in-home visit Thursday night before Shelley leaves for Knoxville this weekend.

"I want to go to a school where they pass the football," Shelley said when asked what he was looking for in a school. "I'm also looking at the academics, the school itself, facilities and the environment."

Tennessee fans looking for an edge in this recruiting battle might find one in Shelley's unique background as the son of a career military man. Born in Berlin, Germany, he has lived Ohio, Hawaii and California in addition to the last five years in Arkansas where his father decided to settle after retiring from active service. Interestingly, Fort Smith is a border town partly in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

It's not uncommon for UT to range far and wide for prospects. For instance: The still unfinished Class of 2005 features prospects from 11 different states and the District of Columbia, and this is an unusual year in that there are more prospects than usual in the Volunteer State. (Tennessee currently has eight in-state prospects in the Class of 2005 and that number could rise to 10 before it's over.) Even with those numbers, UT's other 15 scholarships will likely go to players from 11 states.

Players from 37 different states, three countries and the District of Columbia have lettered at Tennessee over the years, including players from Alaska and Hawaii. In the last three years alone, the Vols have signed prospects from 19 different states or locales. In the last five years the Vols have signed prospects from every state Shelley has lived in plus a native of Berlin, Germany (Constantin Ritzmann), who came to the U.S. through an NFL International Futures Program.

When it comes to a military brat's comfortable level Tennessee should feel like home base.

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