Vols Invade Big 10 Territory

As successful as Tennessee's in-state recruiting has been to this point, the Vols aren't limiting themselves to homegrown talent while putting together their Class of 2007.

Tennessee has been unusually active in Big Ten country, committing five-star O-lineman Darris Sawtelle from Bloomfield, Mich., and positioning itself for several other topnotch prospects.

Last week the Vols offered five-star running back John Clay of Racine, Wis.., and are among his favorites along with Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State, Texas, USC and Wisconsin. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound power back rushed for 2,032 yards and 31 touchdowns in 174 carries as a junior for Park High School, averaging an eye popping 12 yards per run.

Although Clay has the size to be a first-rate fullback, he has the speed (4.45) to blast through a hole as well as the power to make one. He is seldom brought down by first contact and frequently breaks multiple tackles on a single carry. His rare combination of size, strength and straight-line speed reminds some of a young Jamal Lewis, although Clay hasn't seen the level of competition the former Vol did as high school star in Georgia.

Wisconsin has a strong home-state advantage and an offense that features the power game. Ohio State is a strong contender and has recruited Clay harder and longer than his other favorites. Tennessee is gaining ground with this big-time ground gainer, and is pressing for an official visit. Time should be on the Vols side since Clay doesn't plan on announcing his decision until near national signing day.

Tennessee is also a serious contender for Ronald Johnson, a four-star defensive back/wide receiver from Muskegon, Mich. Checking in at 6-0, 185, and owning 4.4 speed, Johnson is a dead ringer for former Vol and NFL great Terry McDaniel, who was a two-way prospect out of Saginaw, Mich., who played cornerback at UT before becoming a first round draft choice and perennial All-Pro DB for the Oakland Raiders. Like McDaniels, Johnson is also a sprinter and track standout.

After setting a school record with 10 interceptions as a sophomore, Johnson suffered a torn ACL and missed his junior campaign. He is fully recovered now and expected to make a strong return to the gridiron this fall. If not for his loss of an entire season, Johnson would likely be rated a five-star prospect and perhaps the top high school player in Michigan. That honor goes to Sawtelle. Certainly, UT's recent commitment from Sawtelle should improve the Vols chances with Johnson.

"I don't know what the rest of the country has to offer," said Muskegon head coach Tony Aneasse, "but it's hard to imagine a better all-around athlete in the country."

There's no shortage of contenders for Johnson as Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, UCLA, USC and Tennessee have all offered and comprise Johnson's favorites list.

Elsewhere in Big Ten country, Tennessee has also offered Dale Martin, a 5-11, 195-pound running back from Bolingbrook, Ill., a four-star prospect with 4.50 speed. A perimeter runner capable of getting to the, and turning, the corner in a hurry, Martin rushed for 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior to garner all-state and all-area honors.

The Vols are currently rated third behind Iowa and Louisville on Martin's list of favored schools, but that could change after he makes an unofficial visit to Knoxville next month.

"Right now I would say that Louisville and Iowa are my two favorites but Tennessee is right there," he told Scout.com's Jamie Newberg. "I just have not been to Tennessee yet.

"I am going to see Tennessee in early June. I love that stadium and would love to play in that stadium. Tennessee has great tradition and warm weather."

And the forecast in Big Orange Country is getting brighter by the day.

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