Vols In Fight for Top-Flight Florida Cornerback

Great cover corners are to college football recruiters what super models are to the average man: everybody wants one, but there just aren't nearly enough to go around.

Despite another outstanding recruiting campaign last season in which Tennessee ranked in the top five nationally, the Vols were shut out in their search for a big-time cover corner. UT was a finalist for one of the nation's best in A.J. Davis of North Carolina, but eventually lost his commitment to in-state UNC. However Davis' verbal to the Tar Heels didn't stick and N.C. State eventually won the recruiting battle.

This year Tennessee has another uphill fight on its hands in the competition for Demetrice Webb of Jacksonville Edward H. White High School in Florida. Regarded as one of the country's top cover corners, Webb is considering the Vols along with North Carolina, Florida, Florida State and Miami.

Given their druthers, UT's recruiters would gleefully do their secondary shopping in Tennessee, but driven by the law of supply and demand the Vols are normally forced to comb the country for best available talent. Locating a great cover corner is easy; you just follow the crowd. Landing one, especially when pitted against in-state schools of national scope, is like pulling wisdom teeth with eyebrow tweezers.

Webb, 6-1,185, will be a tough get for the Vols, but his talent is worth the fight. Blessed with superb size and blinding speed, Webb posted some eye-popping numbers as a junior for the Commandos, picking off 10 passes and returning two for touchdowns. Possessing that rare combination of speed and strength ( a 4.36 time in the 40 and a 315-pound bench press} Webb is also well known as a classic striker on defense.

"That's how I grew up," he said of his talent for rocking runners and receivers."Our program has always been physical, you can't go through our program without being physical. I got pushed around when I was little and now it's time for me to push other people around."

Whether Webb is landing a big shot or committing grand larceny, he knows how to make it hurt. In one game last season against Jacksonville Sandalwood, he intercepted four passes and earned player of the week honors in Florida. When he wasn't making life miserable for opponents on defense, Webb was shining in part-time duty on offense. He gained 820 yards as a tailback last year and he also got in a few reps at receiver.

In his varsity debut as a sophomore, Webb scored a touchdown the very first time he touched the ball, taking a punt 50 yards to pay dirt. He also caught a couple of passes in that contest and proved himself to be a genuine triple threat with six interceptions on the season.

It wasn't long before opponents were going to great lengths to avoid Webb on punts and kicks. The same thing was happening when he played corner so the Ed White defensive staff solved the problem by moving him to free safety. Most colleges are recruiting Webb as a cover corner who could also earn playing time at receiver where his speed and 36-inch vertical would pose a perpetual threat.

On the subject of speed, Webb's time appears accurate and he plans on running track in college. He purposely didn't attend any football camps this summer in order to run AAU track and recorded a personal best time of 10.5 in the 100 meters. This is where Tennessee's chances of signing Webb take an upturn as the Vols have one of the nation's great track programs with the NCAA's best sprinters.

UT may also enjoy the inside track when it comes to recruiters. Jim Ray Stephens is handling the recruitment of Webb for the Vols, reprising the role he filled on the staff at Florida. "We have a good relationship," Webb said of Stephens. "He was recruiting me for Florida when he was there. We've had time to get to know each other."

The Vols may get an additional boost next week when Webb arrives in Knoxville to compete in the Junior Olympics in which he as qualified in the 100 meters and the four-by-400 relay. It will be his first trip to Tennessee and he's looking forward to seeing all the sights.

"Our track program will take us on a little athletic tour of the campus and facilities," he said. "It will be fun checking everything out."

Since the in-state infighting for Webb's services is sure to become intense, Tennessee might offer Webb a welcomed alternative, and he admits to having no current leader.

"Everybody is pretty much the same, I don't have a favorite or anything," he said. "I want a good program that offers a good education. I want to be on a team that will compete for a national championship. I want to go somewhere that I can show my talent early. I want to go where they can develop me for a chance at the pros.

"I like the big crowds that Tennessee has at their games. I want to play in front of a lot of people."

Should Webb select Tennessee he wouldn't have to worry about putting fannies in the seats, but he could sure bring them out of their seats with his exhilarating play.

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