Optimism for Tennessee's future was bright five years ago when the Vols landed seven top 100 prospects, following an 11-2 season with a big victory over Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. It was a class with plenty of pop and enough headliners to keep an enraptured Big Orange Nation buzzing deep into summer.
Talk about star power the Vols had two of the nation's top four prospects in Kevin Simon and Jabari Davis. Simon was the top rated defensive prospect in the country and No. 2 prospect overall while Davis was the nation's No. 2 running back prospect and No. 4 overall. In addition to Davis, the Vols signed the nation's No. 4 rated running back in Derrick Tinsley and the No. 7 rated back in Cedric Houston.
It featured the nation's No. 7 wide receiver and USA Today's second team all-American punter. It featured the nation's No. 7 cornerback, No. 11 quarterback and No. 18 defensive end. It was deep, dynamic and dripping with sex appeal.
Five years later it doesn't look nearly as good. In fact, more than half of the 19 high school players that signed with UT that year left school within three seasons of arriving on campus, including the No. 7 receiver, Montrell Jones and No. 18 defensive end, Ovince St. Preux. Also joining the ranks of the missing were offensive lineman Paul Monroe, defensive back Shannon Benton, fullback William Revill, wide receiver Michael Collins, wide receiver Jomo Fagan, defensive back Chris Heath and running back Keldrick Williams. The No. 7 cornerback, Robert Boulware, did more in track than football. The all-American punter, Justin Reed, became a reserve tight end, and the No. 11 quarterback, C.J. Fayton, became a decent receiver at wing back.
Simon struggled with injuries throughout his career and had four surgeries after signing with the Vols that robbed him of his explosive quickness. Davis and Tinsley never became more than part-time players and occasional contributors, despite their lofty rankings coming out of high school.
Their senior stats reflect less than stellar college careers, as Davis finished with 34 yards in 18 carries and Tinsley had zero yards in three carries. Four years after they were rated the No. 2 and No. 4 running backs nationally, the Georgia duo gained a collective 34 yards in 21 carries. Compare that to walk-on player David Yancey, who had 116 yards in 24 carries that same season.
Houston led UT in rushing three seasons and went on to start in the NFL last season. Jason Mitchell exceeded expectations at linebacker as did Cory Anderson at fullback. However those are the only the high school prospects signed in 2001 that ever started more than 10 games at UT.
The real stars of UT's Class of 2001 turned out to be junior college signees Julian Battle, Demetrin Veal and Aubrayo Franklin. Another high school signee from 2001, Jon Poe, went to junior college two years and before coming back to UT and lettering three seasons as a run stopper in the middle. There are drawbacks to signing JC prospects and some come with baggage, but it's easier to determine a player's value with two years under their belts.
UT's Class of 2006 doesn't reach the star standards of former classes Fulmer signed at Tennessee, but it could hardly fall short of the Class of 2001 in terms of living up to expectations.