Beyond that it's your home state players that give a team it's identify because they are well known by many of your fans before they ever arrive on campus. Home state prospects can set the tone against your traditional rivals since they've grown up with these annual showdowns and appreciate their importance. They are the prospects that are more likely to stick it out, after all, how can you quit and go home when you're already there? They are the prospects that make your best emotional leaders. Think of past pacesetters in Tennessee football and you think of such players as Reggie White, Al Wilson, Bill Bates, Dale Jones, Eddie Brown, Eddie Moore, Eric Westmoreland, John Henderson, Bubba Miller, Harry Galbreath, Bobby Majors, James Stewart, Johnnie Jones, Larry Seivers, Tim Irwin and Scott Galyon.
The importance of domestic prospects are particularly important to the Vols because the state doesn't produce the quantify of Division I players that states like Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana or Mississippi do. And as a general rule, the closer a premier prospect is to your campus the more important he is to your program. That explains the anguish in Big Orange Country when Alcoa tight end Brandon Warren announced twice for FSU.
Apply the same template to Tennessee's Class of 2007 and it's easy to see why Alcoa defensive end Rae Sykes heads the Vols' list of most wanted prospects. Checking in at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds with 4.69 speed this lean DE is quick off the ball and quicker to the quarterback. In short: he will remind many UT fans of former Vol great and Knoxville native Mike Cofer, who went on to become an all-pro player for the Detroit Lions.
Sykes currently bench presses 315 and squats 275. Despite missing a chunk of Alcoa's 2005 Class-2A state championship drive with a broken arm, Sykes still posted 60 tackles and six sacks. As a sophomore, he was the picture of health, recording 132 tackles with 10 sacks. Some feel he has more potential than Warren, who won the Class-2A Mr. Football award in 2005.
Unlike Warren, Sykes grew up in Tennessee and isn't a Nole fan, although his former teammate has vowed to convert him.
"I like their staff too," he told Yancey Porter of Scout.com when asked about Tennessee. "I am very familiar with them. I have been to a few of their games. Really, there is so much to say about Tennessee. I could go on and on about them. I will be up there this weekend for their Junior Day."
The Vols will need the home field advantage in fending off the sharks circling Sykes. He's already been offered by LSU, Florida State, Norte Dame, Michigan and a revitalized Ole Miss. Tennessee and LSU hold the early edge for Sykes, who says he wants to decided sometime during his senior season.
The Vols hope home is where Sykes' heart is.