Vols Land Their Man

College football is a very big business conducted in a very small world.

On the same day Tennessee and Kentucky essentially completed a swap of coaches, Tennessee and Ole Miss completed a swap of quarterbacks.

With Big Orange Country still reverberating from the bombshell that former Vol offensive coordinator Randy Sanders had been hired as Kentucky's quarterback coach — replacing Kurt Roper, who was hired to be Tennessee's backfield coach, — word broke that former Ole Miss commitment Nick Stephens had chosen the Vols over Michigan. His decision comes three days after former Vol starting signal caller Brent Schaeffer committed to the Rebels.

Oh yeah, Stephens was recruited to Tennessee by former Rebel head coach David Cutcliffe, who is serving his second stint as UT's OC, with the help of former Rebel recruiting coordinator Matt Luke, who also helped recruit Stephens for the Rebels.

Also realize that Roper was at Tennessee three seasons and Ole Miss seven before being hired by Rich Brooks as Kentucky's quarterback coach last year. Then there's the fact his father Bobby Roper served on Johnny Majors' staff at Tennessee.

Throw the Mannings in the mix with Cutcliffe, Tennessee and Ole Miss and this tale becomes really weird. The good thing is that when all is totaled up both teams got what they wanted.

Schaeffer joins Mississippi as the nation's No. 1 rated Junior College quarterback while Stephens, of Lewisville, Texas near Dallas, comes to the Vols rated the nation's No. 11 high school signal caller in the Class of 2006 by Scout.com.

More importantly, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound, four-star quarterback, who led Flower Mound High School to a 7-3 record in his first season as a varsity starter, helps fortify a QB stable that was anything but stable in 2005.

Stephens originally committed to Ole Miss in June, but began to reexamine his options after the Rebels hired a new offensive coordinator.

"There were just too many changes at Ole Miss," he said. I didn't want to start over and I had some very good options."

Those options were reduced to one on Monday when Stephens chose Tennessee over Michigan.

"That's correct, I decided today," Stephens said of his choice. "It really just clicked for me honestly. A lot of the factors were the same for both schools so I really couldn't go off that. There were great people at both schools, great programs you know, I just had to go where I wanted to be."

That epiphany came to Stephens while he was sitting in class Monday.

"Really today I was sitting in class and it just clicked for me that Tennessee is where I wanted to be," he said. "That's how it happened.

"I called Coach (David) Cutcliffe. He was excited. He was ready to get going. Him and Coach Fulmer are coming down Wednesday, we're going to get things rolling then."

The Vols get a strong-armed signal caller with good size and high upside. Stephens made a big impression on scouts at the Elite 11 regional camp last summer and his play as a senior was sensational, as he passed for over 2,700 yards with 24 touchdowns in what was his first taste of varsity play.

"I couldn't play as a junior because I moved from a school right down the road and they wouldn't let me play because of a rule that we didn't know about," he explained. "So I had to sit out the year. It was tough but it's all worked out, and I'm not going to think about that anymore."

Remarkably, Stephens had the senior season he did and led Flower Mound to within one win of its first ever playoff berth. All three Flower Mound defeats came against top 10 teams by a combined 10 points. Now he follows up that sterling campaign by becoming the most notable prospect in his high school's history.

"They're very excited," he said of the students at Flower Mound. "This is the biggest school a player from our school has ever gone to so they're pretty excited about it.

"I feel good that I was able to miss my junior year and still get the type of offers I got."

In addition to the trio of Tennessee, Ole Miss and Michigan, Stephens received offers from Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Baylor, UTEP, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Georgia Tech among others.

Stephens spent most of his life in Ohio before moving to Texas, where he became the southwest region's No. 16 rated prospect on the strength of his senior season. He has the type of passing talent that jumps off the screen when you watch him on film and he has good quickness along with respectable 4.90 speed. He plans to work with a speed coach in the offseason in order to gain greater mobility.

"I've always thought my biggest strength was my vision," he said. "You know anyone can take a five-step drop and if the first guy is open hit him. They look good doing that. My biggest thing is if I drop back and a play is breaking down, I'm always going to be looking up the field to make a big play. I think there's something to be said for that.

"That's what I enjoy doing, getting outside and, normally, when a play is breaking down there's somebody open. I like finding him and getting in the end zone."

Stephens will enroll at Tennessee for the second summer session and is likely to enter fall practice as the Vols third or fourth quarterback.

"He (Cutcliffe) said they were going to give me a fair shot," Stephens said. "I'm going to go in and get a fair shot just like everyone else. Depending on what happens they'll redshirt me, or I may get some PT. It all depends on how hard I work and whether I perform or not."

Stephens, who is fully qualified with a 3.1 GPA, will get a tutorial on Tennessee's offense after he signs with on Feb. 1, but his in-home visit on Wednesday from head coach Phillip Fulmer and Coach Cutcliffe will be more pleasure than business.

"If I wasn't committed by then it was just going to be talking," he said of Wednesday's visit. "Now it's going to be a party basically. We're going to be celebrating just having dinner and talking.

Any word for Tennessee fans who will read this story?

"I can't wait to get there," he answered enthusiastically. "That's all I can say."

And that's all Vol fans need to know.

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