Tackle Under the Tree

In this the season of giving, the Tennessee Vols appear to be on the verge of receiving some very good news from a Louisiana D-Lineman with a lot to bring to the table.

Fresh off leading Lutcher High School to the Louisiana Class-3A state championship and winning game MVP honors, Rolando Melancon seems ready to cast his lot on Rocky Top.

"I may take some other visits but they'll just be for vacation," he said when asked about his recruiting status. "Tennessee's my school. I like the way they move on the front. They hop around a lot. They come from all angles. That's my game. I like to move around, you know, and not all schools are like that. Tennessee's my school. Time frame wise I could go with them any day now. I don't know what I'm waiting on, just keeping my community waiting. When Tennessee came to my house I told them around Christmas I might give them a Christmas present."

That's the gridiron gift that keeps on giving, perhaps into Xmas 2011 when Melancon would be a fifth year senior. Not that he's not ready to redshirt. A five-year high school starter he broke his fibula in the spring of freshman year and missed much of his sophomore and junior seasons with complications that would eventually require surgery.

"I've been a five-year starter," he explained, "I played linebacker in the eighth grade. My tenth grade year I broke my fibula in the spring. My first game back was a playoff game. In my 11th grade year the screws were bothering me. I got operated on and the got the screws taken out after the season was over. This year it didn't bother me anymore."

Without the benefit of a two-year buildup to this senior season, Melancon still attracted a ton of attention from major programs and earned a No. 33 ranking among tackle prospects by Scout.com. He put an exclamation mark on his high school career with 97 tackles, 28 tackles for losses, five sacks, six fumble recoveries and three interceptions despite facing an array of double team blocks, traps and misdirections.

"His explosive first step makes him so tough to block," said Lutcher head coach Tim Detillier. "He really moves well laterally and that allows him to make plays all over the field. On the football field, Ro gets it. He understands the game. He has made all of the calls and alignments on defense since he was a freshman." His MVP performance included eight tackles, three sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. The interception showcased Melancon's superb skill set.

"I think my speed is one of my strengths," he said. "I know the game. The interception was on a quarterback throwback. He tossed the ball to the running back and he ran way right. I could tell what he was going to do so I just chased him and deflected the ball and intercepted it. That's how I got three interceptions on deflections and screens. I just get after it. I never stop. I just know how to make plays."

Melancon's ability to make plays has a lot to do with his size, speed and instincts. At 6-foot-1, 270 pounds he's not the biggest defensive tackle, but he is among the quickest. He has 4.82 speed and outstanding lateral mobility. He bench presses a respectable 315 pounds, has a 30-inch vertical and an impressive 4.55 shuttle time. He'll need to add weight and strength to play in the SEC, but he can compensate for physical shortcomings with his explosive first step, excellent leverage and ability to exploit angles. He played some on the nose and can shoot the gap in addition to controlling two gaps against the run. His attacking style fits Dan Brooks stunting schemes to a T.

"Coach [Dan] Brooks said he likes my game so much," Melancon told Scout.com's Andrew Bone. "I am amazed at some of the things he knows about my game. I use my hands and run well. He said he could do a lot of things with me. He said I am like Turk McBride. He said I could play nose, tackle or maybe move to end. He likes my speed, and my motor never stops. I like the fact I could play multiple positions at Tennessee."

Melancon also liked his visit to Knoxville last month.

"I liked the coaches and how everyone got along," he said, "Coach Brooks, Coach Taylor and Coach Fulmer really welcomed me. They told me about how many guys are graduating and how many are graduated the next year. They said there's a chance for me to play early if I come in and take care of business.

"They got along well. It was like a family thing. Everyone's all close. It just a close environment with Rocky Top and everything. That was my first Tennessee moment. The first time I had been there. When I came from my visit I couldn't quit talking about it. I told my mother I didn't want to come home. And if I like it she loves it."

You get the feeling it won't be Ro's last visit to the home of the Vols despite the offers from LSU, Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska and Ole Miss.

"I never really grew up a LSU fan," he said. "I liked some of the players. They've had some great players, like Marcus Spears. I just really liked Tennessee and what they had to offer. I don't know when or where I will announce. Maybe when the mood hits me."

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