Defending the Home Front

Whether the recent upsurge of quality football prospects from the Knoxville area represents a quantum leap in talent development or just a statistical anomaly, the Vols are riding the wave for all its worth.

n 2006 all four in-state high school players to sign with UT were from east Tennessee, including U.S. Army All-American Jacques McClendon from Cleveland and Powell's Lee Smith, another four-star prospect and the son of former Vol offensive lineman Daryl Smith.

Phillip Fulmer & Co. have already landed two more east Tennessee grid stars for the Class of 2007 in defensive back deluxe Anthony Anderson of Knoxville Austin East High School and Tyler Maples of Maryville, a fleet (4.50) receiver with a 6-foot-4 frame and plenty of game. UT is also in a recruiting war for premiere pass rusher Rae Sykes of Alcoa and his talented teammate — wideout Kyrus Lanxter.

Other local prospects to keep an eye on with the Vols is Denis Rogan, a back who posted big numbers as a junior for Fulton High School and was a Mr. Football finalist in Class 3A. He has been offered by Virginia Tech and is being strongly recruited by Tennessee, Nebraska, Texas, Auburn, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Duke. The 5-11, 175-pound Rogan rushed for 1,805 yards and 24 TDs in 2005. He broke the 200-yard barrier five times and recorded a career high 301 yards vs. Scott County. He caught 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

In addition to Rogan, Fulton has a couple of D-I line prospects in 6-foot-7, 320-pound offensive lineman Charles Gatewood and D-lineman Antonio Hamilton, 6-2, 295.

Over at Powell there are a pair of offensive linemen — John Bruhin and Jared McGaha — that are attracting Division-I interest. Bruhin is the son former Vol John Bruhin. And at Knoxville Catholic defensive back/receiver, Harrison Smith, is opening eyes and commanding offers.

Most of these prized local prospects have attended the adidas Elite Camp held at Tennessee earlier this month, and will return for the Senior Camp in June.

It's entirely possible that half of UT's 2007 recruiting class will come from within the crowded borders of the Volunteer State. If that's the case most of those will hail from east Tennessee.

The advantages of signing in-state prospects can't be overstated. It translates to less travel more time to spend with prospects and it's easier to take early pledges without worry of negative pressure pushing a player into changing his mind. In-state prospects tend to stick it out longer if things aren't going well and they come fully indoctrinated in the tradition of the program. In short they are born of the blood and living their dream.

That type of incentive can generate an abundance of passion and intensity which is every bit as contagious as enthusiasm. It's the type of energy that can transform a team's attitude and fine tune its focus. It's the type of perspective that means more coming from teammates than it does coming from coaches. In essence growing up in Big Orange Country is truest conduit between UT players and Tennessee fans and it connects them at a deep emotional level.

That kinship helps explains why Tennessee's 1985 SEC Championship team remains as popular if not more than the 1998 National Championship squad. Nearly half of the starters on UT's ‘85 team that beat a much more talented and No. 2 ranked Miami, 35-7, in the Sugar Bowl, was from the Volunteer State.

Featured in that group were team captains Dale Jones and Chris White from Cleveland, Tenn. Four of the starting offensive linemen — Harry Galbreath of Clarksville, John Bruhin of Knoxville, Bruce Wilkerson of Philadelphia and Daryle Smith of Knoxville — were from Tennessee. Ditto for tight end Jeff Smith, of Milan, tailback Keith Davis of Nashville, and QB Daryl Dickey, who spent his first six years in Knoxville when his father, Doug, was head coach and returned as a player before his father took over as UT Athletic Director in 1985. The timing couldn't have been better because Dickey stepped in after starter Tony Robinson went down in the first half against Alabama and led the Vols to a 7-0-1 record.

Other defensive starters on the ‘85 team, that went 9-1-2 and finished No. 4 in the nation, included linebacker Bryan Kimbrough of Dickson and tackle Robby Scott of Decatur.

The 1998 team only had five in-state starters, but one of those was team captain and emotional leader Al Wilson of Jackson. Other key in-state contributors included two other team captains, Spencer Riley (center) of New Market and Eric Westmoreland (linebacker) of Jasper. Finally there was offensive lineman Chad Clifton of Martin and receiver Cedrick Wilson of Memphis. Eight years later four of those home grown products are still playing in the NFL.

This comparison shows the substantial role in-state prospects play in Tennessee's football success. It doesn't mean that the coaching staff can address all, or even most, of their needs from in-state stock, but it does suggest there's no better place in the nation to find dedicated leaders and emotional tone-setters than the Volunteer State.

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