Fearsome Fortson

Recruiting Miami is a lot like navigating a minefield to reach a gold mine. In other words: It can be a high-risk, high-reward proposition in which you may obtain an impact player or you may have have the whole thing blow up in your face.

Example: Demetrice Morley, a five-star prospect from Miami, who became a full-time starter at DB in his second season on The Hill only to flunk out in January. The loss of the versatile Morley launched UT's staff into full recovery mode during the 2007 recruiting campaign that eventually netted a couple of four-star JUCO DBs.

It was a toss-up as to whether Morley would qualify when he signed with UT in 2005. He did eventually receive a favorable ruling by the NCAA and the Vols appear to have been paying ever since. So has Gerald Williams for that matter. Point being: Morley is fairly typical of many prospects that grow up on the mean streets of urban Miami, a city virtually devoid of a middle class. A place where some of the roads are seemingly paved with gold while others are pocked with potholes.

It's a city of two tales: one of high profile celebrities and professional athletes driving ultra luxury cars and dodging swarms of paparazzi. It's one of trendy night clubs and fabulous fashion. another of abandoned autos, dilapidated dwellings and widespread poverty.

When you live in an environment where violence rules and drive-by shootings are a popular pastime, survival becomes the most pressing priority and athletics become a way out. Unfortunately, the importance of an education is often realized only when grades stand in the way of their dreams.

Homegrown football prospects fueled Miami's rise to collegiate gridiron greatness and supplied the Canes' signature swagger. The better Miami got the more difficult it was for other schools to go to south Florida and land big prospects. That's reflected by the fact that Morley in 2005 was the first player the Vols had signed out of Miami since 1990 when they inked defensive end Horace Morris who was Tennessee team captain in 1993. Traditionally, Tennessee has enjoyed success recruiting Miami with such notables as Terry Daniels, Fuad Reviez, Kevin Simons, Lenny Taylor and Kelly Ziegler, who was UT's captain in 1987. But there were also talented players, like Dave Thomas and Orlando Reyes, that came to The Hill from Dade County and only lasted one season.

Clearly, the rewards of recruiting Miami is worth the risks and it only makes sense that a program of UT's status would attempt to establish and maintain a pipeline to the talent rich city on the coast — especially with the Canes in recovery.

The biggest Miami prospect in the Class of 2008 is Marcus Fortson, a 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle with 5.0 speed and a 3.0 GPA. As a junior, he was third on the team in tackles with 92, including 20 sacks, and helped lead Northwestern High School to the Class 6A state title. He was named First Team All-State as well as First Team All-Dade County. Some scouts feel he could be better than Marvin Austin who was the nation's top-ranked interior lineman in the Class of 2007. He didn't have to wait long for the offers to start pouring in.

"They just keep on coming," Fortson told Scout.com's Mike Bakas. "I have a top five and it's UM (Miami), Tennessee, Auburn, Rutgers and North Carolina. Those are the schools I have the most interest in."

Fortson, who reportedly bench presses 365 pounds and squats 510, indicates he will visit Tennessee, Rutgers, Auburn and North Carolina. He's still considering the in-state programs but won't likely take any official visits in the Sunshine State.

"Everybody has a chance," he said. "I probably wouldn't take a visit to Miami, Florida, or Florida State, because I already know how things are there. I'd like to take my visits to places out of state, so I can experience new things. I've already been to Miami and Florida."

So have the Vols, and now they're back.

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