Vols vs. Rebels in Memphis

Remember when it was tougher for UT to sign football prospects in Memphis than it was for the FCA to hold a membership drive in Beirut?

In those not-so-long-ago days college coaches couldn't get on the Memphis Melrose campus without paying a cover charge, and the going rate just to court gridiron stars at Memphis Trezvant was a luxury SUV.

Fortunately, dollar ball has been exposed and eliminated in the Bluff City and it no longer takes dough to make a play for big-time prospects.

In this thriving free market the Vols have made steady progress signing such notables as David Ligon, LaRon Harris, Brad Cottam and Ellix Wilson from Memphis in recent years. In 2005, Tennessee inked four more prospects from the city by the Mississippi, including two from Memphis East, Malcolm Rawls and Dan Williams along with Todd Cox and Jeff Cottam, but lost the grand prize, offensive lineman Michael Oher of Briarcrest Christian, to Ole Miss.

Memphis is teeming with tantalizing talent in the Class of 2006 and Ole Miss is a team the Vols will have to contend with again. In fact, the Rebels have already received commitments from LaDerrick Vaughn, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound receiver from Manassas High School and Brandon Jackson, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound linebacker from Briarcrest Christian.

Recently we wrote an article detailing Tennessee's interest in East wide receiver Cassius Vaughn, but the top prizes from Memphis in the Class of 2006 may be Michael Carter and Craig Cooper from Melrose High School.

In 2004 Carter, 6-31/2, 275, spearheaded a Golden Wildcat defense that allowed a meager 4.6 points per game. Playing primarily at defensive end he compiled 97 tackles, 16 sacks and 52 quarterback hurries, earning first team all-state honors as Melrose went 14-1 and reached the Class-4A state title game.

Carter has a 3.0 GPA and scored a 19 on his ACT. He reportedly runs a 4.9 time in the 40, bench presses 315 and squats 550. Naturally, Carter has generated a lot of interest among top schools like Georgia, Miami, South Carolina, Ole Miss and Tennessee.

When asked by Scout.com's Yancy Porter which schools were showing the most interest, Carter said: "I would say Tennessee and Ole Miss. Louisville, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Miami, and Arkansas have also been recruiting me real hard but not as hard as Ole Miss and Tennessee."

Carter attended the adidas Combine at Tennessee in March and was at the Rebels' spring game last month. When asked what he liked about UT his response was concise and to the point: "Everything man. everything."

Cooper, 5-10, 183, played both running back and corner for Melrose where he amassed 1,981 yards and 20 TDs on 229 carries, averaging 8.7 yards per run. His achievements earned Cooper Region 8 (4A) Player of the Year honors in addition to runner-up Mr. Football Class (Class 4A).

Cooper reportedly runs a 4.5 time, bench presses 280, and squats 405. He has a 34-inch vertical leap. He has received scholarship honors from Ole Miss, Tennessee, Louisville, LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. He made trips to Miami and Tennessee this spring and lists those among his early leaders.

"Right now, I like a lot of schools," he told Porter. "Tennessee, Miami, Georgia, LSU, there are just a bunch of schools I like. Ole Miss and Louisville. I just talk to my father about all of this, and then we talk to their coaches. I like Miami but LSU is where I might end up. I do not know, I will just pray about it."

And what does Cooper like about Tennessee?

"Their tradition," he said. "They have such a big stadium and bunches of fans. I can see myself getting pumped up coming out of that tunnel."

Another Memphis prospect the Vols and Rebels are pursuing is Briarcrest Christian defensive end Greg Hardy, who is 6-6, 245, and runs a 4.8 time in the 40. He plays both basketball and football.

"I like Wake Forest, Ole Miss, Kentucky, and you know, Miami," he said. "Those are my favorite schools and Tennessee. I like them a lot, too.

"I have not checked them out yet, but they have a good program from what I have read and seen on TV. They invited me to come up for their Spring (game) and Junior Day, but I couldn't make it."

An all expense paid football Saturday in Knoxville this fall, might be an offer Hardy can't refuse.

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