Vols Look To JC Ranks to Rebuild D-Line

Because defensive linemen are among the most difficult prospects to find and next-level-ready high school linemen are even more rare, the Vols will likely turn to the junior college ranks for help in their 2003 D-line reconstruction project.

This year Tennessee added defensive end Mondre Dickerson of Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kan., to the lineup. Last year it was Aubrayuo Franklin, from Itawama Community College, and Demetrin Veal, of Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif., that were signed for supporting depth behind John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Rashad Moore.

Both Dickerson and Franklin played their high school football instate. Dickerson was a product of Memphis Melrose who originally signed with Tennessee's Class of 2000, but was forced to go the JC route after coming up a couple of credit hours short of qualifying. He was placed in Coffeyville CC by UT. Franklin hailed from Johnson City, Tenn., and developed into a Division I prospect after some growth and seasoning in junior college.

Veal was a JC first team All-American who came on strong down the stretch last season and figures to be UT's most versatile lineman this year with his ability to play either tackle or end.

Building a team through junior college prospects is frothed with rewards and risks. Mississippi State has been mostly successful with that approach, but last season's 3-8 mark reflects the hazards it entails.

There are also good examples of the good, the bad and the uncertain on UT's current depth chart. Much like Dale Carter in 1991, defensive back Julian Battle stepped in as a starter from day one last season after graduating from Los Angeles Community College. He could become a star this season at either cornerback or strong safety.

Gibril Wilson, 6-1, 190, signed with Tennessee last year after earning JC All-American honors at San Francisco Community College. Wilson is line for playing time this fall, but his failure to lock down the strong safety job has forced the Vols to move Battle from the corner where his size and athleticism are in demand. Wilson may yet emerge as a big-time player, but the meter is running.

And then there's defensive back Charles Small who signed with the Vols out of Coffeyville CC in 2000. Small was redshirted in 2000 and was only a minor contributor last season. With only one year of eligibility remaining and Small buried down the secondary depth chart, it appears his college career will be spent in virtual anonymity.

Even given the occasional Small mishap, it's no reason for UT to give up on junior college prospects. After all, such high-profile defensive linemen as Leonard Little, Chuck Smith and Chris Mims came to UT via junior colleges, and all three went on to enjoy successful NFL careers.

The Vols placed linebacker Jonathan Poe, out of Covington, Tenn., (just outside of Memphis) in Coffeyville Community College. Poe, who roomed with Dickerson, was signed with UT's 2001 Class before academic shortcomings detoured him to Coffeyville. He redshirted last fall to heal an old knee injury, but he is expected to be full speed this season and will likely re-sign with Tennessee next December. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Other than Poe, Tennessee doesn't have any direct connection with highly regarded JC prospects this season, but here are a few names to keep a watch for as the recruiting season gains momentum.

One of the top line prospects is defensive end Chauncey Davis, 6-2, 260, out of Jones County CC in Mississippi. Davis was placed by Florida State and will probably sign with the Seminoles, although other schools will make a run at him. Davis is an outstanding pass rusher who's also effective against the run.

Another topnotch defensive end is J.J. Grant,6-4, 245, who originally signed with Mississippi State. Grant is in his second season at Butler Community College in Kansas. A dominate force up front, Grant would be an ideal strong-side linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and an excellent pass-rushing specialist in a 4-3 alignment.

Prying either of these players away from the Seminoles or Bulldogs will be a challenge, and since the need is greater at defensive tackle than defensive end don't be surprised to see UT look to Texas for a couple of interior line prospects.

Zarnell Fitch, 6-3, 280, out of Navarro, Texas, is a physical run stopper with 4.8 speed which means he could play either end or tackle. Fitch is almost identical to Veal in size and ability.

Arthur Johnson, 6-3, 280, out of Trinity Valley CC, is identical to Fitch in size and may have more ability. His coach calls Johnson "a freak" because of his unusual combination of size, speed and agility. He reportedly runs a 4.75.

There are two prospects from California that meet UT's need for size and speed up front and the Vols have had success recruiting west coast football talent. The first is Michael Montgomery, 6-4, 270, of Navarro, Calif., who is a very physical player with 4.89 speed.

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect is Keoloa Loo of Orange Coast, Calif. At 6-2, 290, with 4.86 speed he could play on either side of the ball. Originally from Hawaii, Loo is regarded by many as the best JC prospect in the nation.

A few other names to keep an eye on include: Delvin Carr, 6- 3, 295, Blinn, Texas, Lee Robinson, 6-4, 255, College of DuPage in Illinois, Kenese Letuli, 6-6, 300 of El Camino, Calif., and James Benton, 6-6, 290, of Fullerton, Calif.

Should the Vols decide to dip into the JC pool for a tight end prospect like they did this year with Leon Pinky they could do no better than Sims Kemp of Blinn, Texas. The 6-5, 230-pound Sims has exceptional athletic ability, good hands and runs a remarkable 4.54 time in the 40.

The process for recruiting junior college players is much less involved than high school prospects and advanced information is more difficult to come by. However it has become a key component to any successful program, especially in light of scholarship limitations and more stringent qualifying guidelines.

We'll endeavor to keep you posted on Tennessee's progress in this area.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories