Taproot Talent

Tennessee's search for big play tight ends in the Class of 2008 has spanned the nation, but it could well be successfully concluded within the friendly borders of Big Orange Country.

Such is the quality of talent at that position this recruiting season in the Volunteer State. The grand prize is already in UT's fold as Maryville's Aaron Douglas committed to the Vols on Aug. 1 of last year. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound is widely regarded as one of the best tight end prospects nationally and is a good bet to secure a place in Scout.com's Hot 100.

Recruiting director Jamie Newberg provides this assessment of the Tennessee legacy, who will follow in his parent's footsteps by pursuing his athletic calling on The Hill.

"Aaron Douglas is a great looking tight end prospect from Maryville (Tenn.) High School. Douglas has already committed to Tennessee. It's seems like the Vols always stockpile quality tight ends and they are getting just that in Douglas. First, he has great size and very good athleticism. For his size he has good speed. Douglas has very soft hands and shows excellent concentration and body control. He will catch the ball in traffic and take the hit. Douglas gets a good release off the line of scrimmage and you can also flex him out wide. Douglas is also a solid blocker at the point of attack although he is more of a receiving threat."

It's his capacity to be both a blocking and receiving threat that makes Douglas so valuable to the Vols, who face the daunting task of establishing a ground attack against SEC defenses that stuff the box with apparent impunity (and a lot of defenders). He's a big blocker that can transform into instant mismatch as a receiver. Running a reported 4.9, Douglas doesn't have the speed of a Jason Witten, but he does have the size, sure hands and total toughness of the former Vol and current Dallas Cowboy All-Pro.

An ideal complement to Douglas may have emerged in the form of 6-foot-4, 225-pound Elijah Epperson, who has the frame to add pounds without sacrificing his 4.53 speed. The senior from Humboldt High School had 23 catches for 653 yards and six touchdowns last fall and he added 68 tackles and eight sacks at defensive end. Epperson's average of 28.4 yards per catch and one TD per 3.9 receptions underscores his big-play potential.

The athletic Epperson, who is known as E.J., currently has offers from the SEC trio of Arkansas, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. The Vols are vitally interested and an offer appears imminent. Memphis, Nebraska and Miami are also involved.

Epperson, who earned All-State honors in football, also plays basketball for Humboldt and is chapter presidents of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He likes the "small town" feel of MSU and the fact Ole Miss was the first to offer him. He likes the recent success and the "atmosphere" of Arkansas, but only UT gives him that hometown feeling he gets in Knoxville.

"I love the atmosphere of their games. I went to their Spring game. Coach Fulmer is a great recruiter. He sent three players in the 1st round this year alone. They have my position open for some early playing time. He has been telling me that I would play a lot as a freshman if I went there. Plus, it is close to home, and they are just such great recruiters. I would be getting a good education if I went there too."

In turn the Vols would be getting a quality prospect with west Tennessee roots to team with an east Tennessee native. It's also interesting to note that three of UT's most talented tight ends ever — Reggie Harper, Dustin Moore and Witten — all hailed from the Volunteer State.

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