Vols Shift into Stretch Drive

One week before national signing day, Tennessee's Class of 2006 is really starting to take shape, as the Vols crack the top 25 in the team rankings for the first time in the current recruiting campaign.

With 18 commitments on the books, the Vols are looking to finish strong. To that end, the first order of business is retaining the longtime commitment of tight end prospect Michael Goggans of Alexander City, Ala. Ranked No. 24 at his position.

Goggans, 6-3, 245, 4.63, recently listed Auburn and Alabama even with Tennessee in the fight for his services. An announcement could come any time now.

The irony of Goggans being a priority for the Vols is that UT already has two tight ends committed in No. 8 Lee Smith of Powell and No. 34 Luke Stocker of Berea, Ky. Furthermore, the Vols are putting the full court press on Alcoa's Brandon Warren who is rated the nation's No. 7 tight end prospect and is currently a commitment to Florida State. Obviously, some of these prospects will end up at other positions. Just as clearly, UT is pulling out all stops to sign and develop a receiving threat at tight end.

With No. 20 wideout Andrey Baskins committed to Syracuse, the only other receiver prospect the Vols are known to be actively pursuing is No. 7 wide receiver Tim Hawthorne of Homewood, Ala. Coach Phillip Fulmer had an in-home visit with Hawthorne on Sunday in an effort to get a visit from the stellar pass catcher. His efforts paid off handsomely when it was learned Wednesday that Hawthorne will indeed take his last official visit to Knoxville.

"The visit with coach Fulmer went pretty good the other night," Hawthorne told Scout.com analyst Andrew Bone. "He gave me a lot of good info about the school. I have decided to take my final official visit this weekend to Tennessee."

This is a real coup for the Vols' recruiting efforts and it could yield results. Undoubtedly, it can't hurt having the last chance to make a pitch with his signature on the line. That's especially true in the case of Hawthorne because he's never really had a favorite until his recent visit to Auburn, and he's expected to announce his decision on Monday.

"I feel I need to give Tennessee one last look," he told Bone. "I felt like I needed to go up there to check out everything. They could easily get back into the swing of things.

Hawthorne is scheduled to announce on Monday at 4:30 (CST) afternoon.

"I hope I can decide by then," he said. "It's going to be very tough. I really don't know if I will have my decision made, but I hope so. The announcement will take place at The Club (Homewood, Ala.)."

Scoring a four-star receiver the caliber of Hawthorne at a position of need two days before national signing day could boost the Vols to a strong finish.

With Brandon Minor committed to Michigan, it doesn't appear the Vols will sign a running back other than Alcoa's Dustin Lindsey, who could end up on defense or at fullback. Look for JaKouri Williams to return to tailback this spring to fortify UT"s depth. Williams came to UT ranked the No. 7 running back in the country.

UT's top remaining target for the offensive line is No. 26 rated Ramone Johnson of Chicago. Fulmer had an in-home visit with Johnson on Tuesday night. This is a battle between Illinois and Tennessee. The Illini have the home-state advantage, but the Vols appear to be holding a slight lead.

On the defensive end front, the Vols are battling Mississippi State for No. 52 ranked Victor Thomas of Olive Branch, Miss. The Vols are also prime contenders for No. 51 ranked Dekoda Watson, of Aiken, S.C., who is also looking at South Carolina, FSU and Virginia Tech. This one could go to the wire with South Carolina and Tennessee the unofficial favorites.

At defensive tackle the Vols are very involved with No. 31 Aleric Mullins of Wendell, N.C. and Adam Patterson of Columbia, S.C. Mullins has his choices down to North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Patterson's choices appear to be down to Auburn, which he visits this weekend, N.C. State, South Carolina and Tennessee.

There's still a lot of buzz around the Stone Mountain, Ga., linebackers, Kelvin Sheppard and Perry Riley, defecting from LSU in favor of Tennessee. There's also the possibility the Stephenson High School teammates will go to different schools — Riley to LSU and Sheppard to UT. They made an unofficial visit to Tennessee last weekend.

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