Baylor FB Commits to Vols

Building Tennessee's 2007 football class has been a whole lot like picking up bargains on the Home Shopping Network for Phillip Fulmer & Co.

That atypical trend continues with news of today's verbal commitment from fullback/linebacker prospect Kevin Cooper of Chattanooga Baylor, who becomes the fourth home state player to pledge to sign with UT, joining Knoxville Austin East's Anthony Anderson, Maryville High School's Tyler Maples and Todd Campbell of Franklin High School. The fifth commitment is Darris Sawtelle of Bloomfield, Mich., whose grandfather is a native of Franklin and played for Tennessee.

The four in-state commitments are as many as the Vols signed this year, and it's only May 1. With a number of big names from the Volunteer State, such as Rae Sykes, Chris Donald, Harrison Smith, Alex Waltins and Golden Tate still uncommitted, UT could easily end up with half of its 2007 signing class coming from within its own borders.

Whether this represents a change in recruiting strategy, or is merely a response to an unusually deep crop of in-state prospects is a matter of speculation, but there is no doubt the Vols like the prospects they've landed.

At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds with reported 4.7 speed and good athleticism, Cooper fits the mode of size and speed UT looks for on both sides of the ball. He played primarily at running back last year, gaining 1,054 yards and 15 touchdowns in 154 carries for an average of 6.9 yards per carry. He also 29 receptions for 241 yards and two TDs for a Baylor team that went 7-5.

Cooper, who was teammates with UT signee Jacques McClendon was getting a lot of attention from SEC schools including Alabama. Why did Cooper choose UT.

"It's close by," he said on WNML's Sports Talk radio program hosted by Jimmy Hyams and John Wilkerson. "My family wouldn't have any trouble (seeing him play). My brother attends the University, so I'd like to be up there with him. And I just like Tennessee. Nothing is better than Tennessee football. I'm really excited to be a part of it."

Cooper said the recruiting process was also "exciting" and that he was "thankful" for the attention but he was also glad to have reached a decision.

"Since I was young," he said. "I've always been a Vol fan but I kind of like all the SEC. It's just a good conference for football, the best in the nation. But Tennessee really does stand out."

In limited duty at linebacker on defense for Baylor, Cooper recorded 16 tackles and has a lot of potential at middle linebacker. Still he favors offense.

"I prefer fullback," he said. "I'm more of an offensive type of guy."

Cooper, who is fully qualified, also played forward for the Baylor basketball team averaging about 10 points per game. Among his individual highlights on the gridiron, Cooper:

• Rushed for 143 yards in 32 carries against Montgomery Bell Academy.

• Scored four touchdowns against East Ridge in the season opener.

• Ripped off a run of 82 yards against Father Ryan High School.

• Had 103 yards in receptions against Coffey County .

• Led his conference in scoring with 17 touchdowns.

With the recruiting process set aside, Cooper is now looking to write a strong final chapter to his solid high school career.

"I'll be working out all summer, getting ready for football season," he said. "I can improve on my speed. That's what I think I need to do most."

For sure, Cooper doesn't take long to make a decision.

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