Can UT Turn Tiger Trio?

Tennessee will put its football program's powers of persuasion to the test this weekend when the Vols attempt to change the minds of three prospects committed to LSU and one pledged to Ole Miss.

The fact they even managed to get a second chance at these prospects says a lot about the persistence of UT recruiters Trooper Taylor and Steve Caldwell, who refused to take no for an answer, and the reputation of David Cutcliffe for developing quarterbacks.

As a result of these recruiters' sticktoitiveness, the Vols will host a pair of highly regarded linebacker teammates in Kelvin Sheppard and Perry Riley, of Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga. They committed to LSU in mid September but were convinced to visit UT by Taylor. They will be joined by fellow LSU verbal Derrick Odom, a four-star LB/DE out of Callaway High School in Jackson, Miss., and rated No. 28 at his position by Scout.com.

The quarterback prospect is Nick Stephens of Flower Mound High School in Lewisville, Texas, who committed to the Rebels in November. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound signal caller is rated No. 11 among the nation's QB crop and is considered one of the best drop-back passer in the Class of 2006. Stephens chose Ole Miss over offers from Tennessee, Colorado, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Oklahoma State and Washington State among others.

Sheppard, 6-2, 222, 4.65 is a player Tennessee has pursued since last spring and projects as a good fit as a linebacker in John Chavis' 4-3 defense. He played outside backer for Stephenson and recorded 102 tackles with 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and one INT which he returned for a touchdown. Riley, 6-0, 219, 4.6, compiled 131 stops with two sacks and four interceptions, as the defensive duo paced Stephenson to a 12-2 mark and state playoff semifinal berth.

The Vols already have a commitment from Stone Mountain linebacker LaMarcus Thompson who attends Redan High School and is rated the nation's No. 53 prospect at his position. Sheppard checks in at No. 61, while Riley ranks No. 56. The Vols, who lost all three 2005 starters at linebacker, also have a verbal from No. 41 LB Dorian Davis.

Odom could become the defensive headliner for the Vols if they can somehow pry him loose from LSU. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, who runs a 4.6, amassed an amazing 155 tackles with nine sacks and six forced fumbles as a senior, following up on a stellar junior campaign for the Chargers in which he had over 100 tackles with a dozen sacks and an equal number of forced fumbles. Odom has been compared to another Mississippi prospect, Parys Haralson, who started three seasons for Tennessee.

Next week the Vols will attempt to alter the course of No. 34 rated wide receiver prospect Kendrick Lewis of Gainesville, Ga., who is another Ole Miss commitment. The 6-foot, 190-pound wideout has 4.5 speed and can play offense or defense at the next level. He played quarterback in the first five games for Gainesville passing for 860 yards and rushing for 740 yards. He then moved to wide receiver and had 660 receiving yards in six games. As a junior Lewis accounted for 34 touchdowns to earn all-state, all-metro and all-district honors.

Even though the Vols experienced their first losing season in 17 years, they did beat LSU and Mississippi. Now they'll try to do it again.


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