Rocky Top Range

Football recruiting at Tennessee translates to business travel for the coaches. Not the short hops they take in Alligator Alley where prospects are plentiful, but the bi-coastal bounds through three time zones that produces jet lag and sight gags.

Think of scenes involving airports, cell phones, rental cars, weather, weather, weather, long drives on back roads to blue chip heavens that can't be found on the map. A GPS that implores you to pull over and ask for directions. Combine these comic ingredients in a script and you've got a surefire sitcom hit on your hands.

Of course it's not a laughing matter to the men that log those miles, although it would make an interesting reality show as teams race across the country n pursuit of prizes that can be redeemed for victories and BIG MONEY.

Of course, Tennessee isn't the only SEC school that covers a lot of distance to compete for top prospects. In fact, most SEC schools will go the distance to sign a star. The difference is the Vols do it out of competitive necessity while other teams from the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana do it as a luxury.

Generally these schools can meet most of their needs without venturing beyond state borders. It's roughly the difference in getting 30 to 35 percent of your class from in-state talent compared to 60 to 70 percent for your chief competition. That's a huge advantage in a logistical world where time is an ever diminishing commodity.

With former five-star wideout Brent Vinson now a starting cornerback and JC transfer Kenny O'Neal in mothballs, the Vols still need a vertical threat at wide receiver. According to Scout.com, their top five candidates to fill such a role are No. 12 rated Jameel Owens, No. 14 Kenny Tate, No. 17 Gerell Robinson, No. 21 Josh Jarboe and No. 27 A.J. Alexander. The members of this group respectively hail from Oklahoma, Maryland, Arizona, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Defensive tackle is an area due an upgrade and the Vols top current candidates are No. 3 Lawrence Guy, No. 19 Willie Mobley, Terrence Cody, a four-star JC player, No. 44 Marty Everett and No. 52 Jomarcus Savage. They hail from Nevada, Minnesota, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama.

Compare that to Georgia which has already secured 23 commitments and is Scout.com's current No. 2 ranked class. The Bulldogs went after running backs in their Class of ‘08 and they've already committed four including: No. 12 Dontavius Jackson, of Franklin. Ga., No. 71 Xavier Avery of Ellenwood, Ga., No. 4 Richard Samuel, of Cartersville, Ga., and No. 15 Carlton Thomas of Frostproof, Fla. They needed defensive linemen and got the nation's No. 1 rated tackle DeAngelo Tyson of Statesboro, Ga., the No. 12 defensive end Toby Jackson of Griffin, Ga. and No. 11 DE Cornelius Washington of Waynesboro, Ga.

Alabama has 22 commitments and is currently ranked No. 7 nationally by Scout.com. Two of those prospects come from Tennessee — No. 21 DE Dont'a Hightower of Lewisburg, and No. 15 offensive tackle Barrett Jones of Cordova — while 14 of the Tide's 22 commitments come from sweet home Alabama.

Ole Miss is ranked No. 20 overall with 22 prospects. Like Alabama two of those prospects are from Tennessee — tight end Jamal Mosley of Memphis Kingsbury High School and No. 11 strong side linebacker Gavin Hardin of Jackson Central-Merry High School. The Rebels secured 14 of their 22 commitments from Mississippi.

LSU checks in at No. 13 nationally according to the experts at Scout.com. The Tigers have 21 commitments of which 10 come from Louisiana. They have picked up another five prospects in talent rich Texas a border state that routinely provides LSU with players.

Even Arkansas which doesn't produce any more prospects per year than Tennessee has an advantage because there is a lack of in-state competition. The Razorbacks are the sixth team that is ranked in the current Scout.com top 25 at No. 18 with 19 commitments, 10 of which come from Arkansas or as Les Miles calls the Natural State — R-Kansas.

Tennessee, which isn't ranked in the top 25 at this point, has 10 total commitments with only four coming from the Volunteer State. The advantage that UT has with eight states on its borders can also be a problem with so many neighbors in position to pick off comparatively few prospects.

Tennessee's coaches are left to defend its home turf and to patch together signing classes from those border states in which it can gain a foothold. When college programs like Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina hire new coaches or have good years it forces the Vols to cast their nets outside the region where the competition is just as intense, and UT is no more welcome.

As a general rule the further you go for prospects the lower your odds of signing and keeping them. It happens so often at Tennessee it seems some fans sometimes forget what an achievement that is.

Look at UT's starting lineups that include players from Oregon, California, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Hawaii, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and six from Tennessee. Add virtual starter Dan Williams, injured starter Marcelous Johnson, and the number of homegrown Vols rises to eight. Add package players like Gerald Jones from Oklahoma and Lennon Creer from Texas and the parade of states reaches 15, including the District of Columbia.

Beyond the logistics the further you venture from your home base the more time it takes to build the trust of a prospect because you not only have to sell your school and football program they have to be sold on a change in community, climate and culture.

That's part of the reason the Vols are currently No. 38 nationally in recruiting and No. 9 in the SEC, according to Scout.com. All of this is worth remembering when the smoke has cleared on national signing day and Tennessee has a consensus top 15 class.


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