Recruiting Rally

With the season complete and the bowl game still a month away, football recruiting, which is a 365 day a year job, moves to the front burner in anticipation of national signing day on Feb. 7.

At this juncture Tennessee has secured 11 non-binding commitments including a couple of soft verbals from J.T. Floyd and Herman Lathers. Depending on attrition the Vols could be expected to sign in the neighborhood of 25 prospects for the Class of 2008.

By comparison to some other SEC schools that isn't a high number, and it has been created some discontent in Vol Nation by those feeling UT might be lagging behind. After all, Georgia currently has 23 commitments, Alabama 22, LSU 21, Mississippi 20, Arkansas 19, Mississippi State 19, Auburn 16 and South Carolina 16. Even Vanderbilt and Kentucky have 13, as does Florida although all similarities end there due to the Gators No. 16 national ranking compared to No. 56 for the Wildcats and SEC cellar dwelling Vanderbilt at No. 65.

Tennessee checks in at No. 40 nationally but only No. 10 in the SEC. However with more scholarships to offer than any other team in the Conference the Vols figure to break into the top 20 if not the top 10. Serendipity serves the Big Orange cause because the Vols have more to offer now than they did in October.

Any doubts about the staff's status have been eliminated during Tennessee's run to the SEC title game, New Year's Day bowl bid and extension of head coach Phillip Fulmer's contract. Of course being the longest serving head coach in the toughest conference in America doesn't hurt either, especially when instability has hit the industry with such ferocity this year.

Since the regular season ended, Dean Fulmer and his veteran staff have hit the recruiting trail with the aim of upgrading a solid if less than spectacular start. They are also taking advantage of a changing college football landscape to get back in on players that had committed to Ole Miss and Arkansas as well as other programs in a state of flux.

The Vols are back in on strong side linebacker Marlon Walls of Olive Branch, Miss., by way of Memphis, Tenn. An Ole Miss commitment November, he is scheduled to visit The Hill on Jan. 11. He goes to Louisville, Ky., on Jan. 18 and plans to wrap up his visits Jan. 25 at Ole Miss. He originally chose the Rebels over Florida. Rated No. 13 at his position by the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Walls runs a 4.55 and could grow into a very fast defensive end.

Walls got an in-home visit from former Arkansas head coach and current Ole Miss boss Houston Nutt. The fact Arkansas recruited Walls and most of the staff will be in Oxford on Jan. 2, favors the Rebels retaining Walls, but UT is a good a position to make a strong case. He followed the Vols growing up and only moved across the border to Olive Branch this year. It figures to be a tough reversal but it's the type of come-from-behind recruiting victories Fulmer & Co. have a history of winning.

The Vols are also working on Arkansas commitment De'Anthony Curtis a 5-foot-9, 200-pound tailback with 4.41 speed and a ton of talent. The Camden, Ark., native rushed for 1,237 yards in 119 carries, caught 40 passes for 707 yards and returned a pair of punts as well as a couple of kickoffs the distance. He scored a total of 26 touchdowns including 18 rushing, four receiving and four on returns. Ranked the nation's No. 21 running back, Curtis' combination of power, quickness and speed might remind many Vol fans of Travis Henry. He's a patient runner who hits the hole with a burst and changes directions adroitly. He's also considering visits to Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

The biggest turn for Tennessee could be Jackson Central-Merry strong-side linebacker Gavin Hardin, 6-4, 240, who is ranked the nation's No. 11 prospect at his position and one of the top three prospects in Tennessee. He remains committed to Ole Miss but has set an official visit to Tennessee on Jan. 25. He also has high interest in Miami and some interest in Kentucky.

Among prospect visits scheduled for this weekend at UT is Lenetree McCray, a Miami commitment and the nation's No. 6 ranked weakside linebacker out of Dunnellon, Fla. A dynamic defensive talent, McCray runs a 4.53 time in the 40, squats 525 pounds and has a 37-inch vertical. He is also considering LSU and Florida. This would be a big get out of the Sunshine State and the likely successor to mega star Jerod Mayo. The Vols still have a lot of ground to make up.

Another prospect scheduled for an official visit is wide receiver Marcus Davis of Virginia Beach, Va. Something of a sleeper at No. 89 nationally the three-star prospect is 6-4, 225 and runs a 4.50. He has visited Connecticut and is considering Florida, North Carolina, Penn State, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Clearly the Vols have plenty of traction and good momentum on the recruiting trail.

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