Eugene Ponders Future

Tennessee's pursuit of the nation's No. 1 cornerback has come to this: if Jai Eugene of Destrehan, La., visits the Volunteers, he'll become a Volunteer. He discussed his impending decision with IT today.

Jai Eugene has decided to announce his choice of colleges during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 7 before the cameras of NBC. That decision splits his list of finalists into separate categories of colleges he's visited and colleges he has not visited.

He has been on official visits to USC (Dec. 16) and Michigan (Nov. 18). He has also made enough unofficial visits over the last two seasons to LSU to know Tiger territory. He is apparently still considering but hasn't visited Tennessee, Miami and Florida.

"Yeah, I finally decided I'll announce at the game," he said. "Whatever school I choose at the game I'll go visit that school, but if it's a school I've already visited I'll be finished with recruiting. Tennessee's still in it."

That may be something of a comfort to Tennessee fans, although the timing of his decision to announce at the greatest high school gridiron gathering on the planet may not be. Eugene just returned from his visit to Pasadena and rated it a superior experience to his Michigan visit. LSU maintains the home-state advantage which could be significant since he has a son born there and family support nearby. However, USC addressed that situation on his visit.

"They told me if I chose USC they would arrange to take care of my boy," Eugene told's Don Hoekwater on Monday. "I'd go out there for a year, then he would figure out a way to get him out to California."

Given the broad range of factors impacting his decision, it doesn't seem likely Eugene would commit ahead of time to a school he has yet to visit. Add it all up and it looks like a USC vs. LSU recruiting battle.

However UT may have a wild card up its sleeve in the form of recruiting ace Trooper Taylor that could well be keeping the Vols in play.

"He's a great coach," said Eugene of Taylor. "He's not just a great coach, he's a great person. He used to coach at Tulane before he went to Tennessee. I've been knowing him ever since he was coaching at Tulane because he recruited my cousin (Fred Smith, wide receiver ). My cousin went to the same school that I do so I've been knowing him since then. Trooper coached my cousin at Tulane, too.

In the beginning of the recruiting process, Eugene was thought to prefer going out of state to college. Knoxville is closer to his home than Pasadena and, when added to his enduring relationship with Taylor might represent a happy medium. Conversely, he hasn't been to UT whereas he attended camps at both Florida and Miami.

While the suspends grows for football fans awaiting Eugene's announcement, he dreads the process of elimination.

"It (recruiting) was fun in the beginning," he said, "but now it gets hard because you've got to start eliminating schools that have great programs. They're all places you'd want to go but you can only go to one."

Despite the fact he knows when he'll announce his decision, Eugene insists he doesn't yet know which college he will choose.

"I haven't really made up my mind yet," he said with a tone of sincerity. "I'll probably decide something next week and let you know in San Antonio."

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