UT Recruiting Needs Boost

There's some good news and bad news where UT football recruiting is concerned. The bad news is that the Vols lost three more prospects to their chief competitors in the SEC East. The good news is Georgia and Florida are running out of scholarships.

The Bulldogs got a commitment from the nation's No. 3 rated tight end Na Derris Ward, 6-5, 245, of McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif. The Gators picked up a pledge from Scout.com's No. 16 rated defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, 6-4, 210, of Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga. Florida also just received a commitment from No. 32 wide receiver Riley Cooper of Clearwater. Cooper can also play safety, but projects as an early draft pick in next spring's Major League Baseball draft.

Cunninghan visited Tennessee on Nov. 12 and Ward was in Knoxville on Oct. 29. Both players are rated four stars and the Vols are sure to see them again over the next five years. Ward was Georgia's 25th commitment in the Class of 2006, while Cunningham is Florida's 23rd.

The commitment pace of the Bulldogs and Gators will slow considerably over the next six weeks leading up to national signing day, simply because each team is rapidly running out of scholarships.

That's a bit good news for a Tennessee team that is coming off its worst season 17 years. However the bad news is the damage is done as Georgia and Florida ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, among the nation's Division I teams.

By comparison, the Volunteers have only collected 10 commitments to this point and check in at No. 42 nationally. Obviously there's time for Tennessee to close strong and there's plenty of talented prospects still slated to visit UT in January.

Georgia has commitments from six top 100 prospects nationally, while Florida has four. Georgia has a total of four prospects with five-star ratings. Florida has five prospects with five-star ratings. Both the Bulldogs and Gators have nine prospects with four-star ratings.

Tennessee trails their principle rivals in the SEC East with one prospect rated in the top 100, no five-star prospects and three four-star prospects.

Following Georgia and Florida from the SEC is LSU at No. 6, Auburn No. 11, Alabama No. 20, Kentucky No. 26, Ole Miss No. 28, Mississippi State No. 40 are all ahead of UT (No. 42). South Carolina No. 54, Vanderbilt No. 55 and Arkansas No. 60 are the three Conference teams trailing Tennessee.

There are seven five-star prospects remaining that have Tennessee among their finalists, but none list the Vols as their leader. That elite list includes No. 1 quarterback Mitch Mustain, No. 1 cornerback Jai Eugene, No. 2 running back Stafon Johnson, No. 2 wide receiver Vidal Hazelton, No. 3 defensive end Deantwan Whitehead, No. 6 offensive lineman Clifton Geathers and No. 9 offensive lineman Antonio Logan-El, a soft verbal to Maryland.

Tennessee appears to be a serious contender for the services of top quarterback Mustain of Springdale, Ark., who recently decommited from the Razorbacks. Another indication he may be planning to go out of state occurred Thursday when he skipped an awards banquet honoring the top prospects in Arkansas. Notre Dame appears to be his most likely destination, but he has a good relationship with UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, and he may see Tennessee as the best chance for early playing time.

Likewise, Jai Eugene, of Destrehan, La., has a solid, long-standing relationship with UT assistant Trooper Taylor that goes back to the coach's tenure at Tulane. He is slated to visit the Vols on Jan. 13. Eugene, who is reluctant to name a leader, follows that with visits to Florida and Miami. He has already visited USC and Michigan.

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