Fulmer 'very, very pleased'

If Phillip Fulmer is disappointed with his 2008 recruiting class he deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance at Wednesday evening's Signing Day news conference.

Although Tennessee's 18-man class featured no five-star prospects and only two four-star prospects, the Vols' head man was all smiles, even joking with reporters before the event that "Maybe I should assign stars to you guys."

With few exceptions, Fulmer's previous recruiting classes were ranked among the top 10 nationally. The fact this one checked in at No. 34 on Scout.com's rankings did not seem to be weighing on his mind too heavily.

"I'm very, very pleased with this class as it turned out," he said. "We filled some needs that were quite obvious to our football team – both short-term and long-term. That's always the most important thing ... that you fill your needs."

One of those needs was to add some size at wide receiver. The Vols accomplished this by signing 6-5, 210-pound E.J. Abrams-Ward of Thomasville, N.C., 6-5, 213-pound Steven Fowlkes of College Park, Ga., and 6-2, 205-pound Rodriguez Wilks of Smyrna. Abrams-Ward is rated a four-star prospect, while the other two are pegged three-star signees.

"We were able to sign some physicalness at receiver," Fulmer said, adding that Abrams-Ward, Fowlkes and Wilks are guys "that can mismatch a cornerback from a size standpoint.... We're really pleased – not only with their ability but their competitive nature and how they go about playing the game. They all played defensive football in high school, and that mentality will bode well for them down the road."

The Vols also added some guys who can play linebacker or defensive end, as needed – mid-term enrollee Austin Johnson (6-3, 235) of Hickory, N.C., Willie Bohannon (6-3, 230) of Mobile, Marlon Walls (6-4, 230) of Olive Branch, Miss., and Gerald Williams (6-4, 240) from City College of San Francisco. UT also signed a pure linebacker prospect in Herman Lathers (6-0, 210) of Baton Rouge

"We added some size to our skill positions, which was one of our goals going into this class," Fulmer said. "We helped ourselves at linebacker/defensive end considerably along the way."

The head man surmised that defensive back Prentiss Waggner (Clinton, La.) "might be the best athlete in the class." The other DB signee, Stephaun Raines of Coffeyville Community College, is a 4.38 speedster who might be the fastest member of the 2008 signing class.

"We have a couple of very, very athletic defensive backs," Fulmer said, adding that the Vols "certainly need immediate help and depth at that position."

Numerically, this is one of Fulmer's smallest signing classes. The head man noted that the return of safety Demetrice Morley following a one-year academic suspension "left us basically with 15 or 16 spots to fill," and that Tennessee actually "over-signed a little bit" by giving 18 scholarships."

The coach added that he always tries to keep a scholarship free "for a walk-on or a transfer student" – a likely reference to Brandon Warren, who is transferring to UT from Florida State.

Ultimately, the head man said the Vols met their recruiting needs in every area except one.

"We fell short in one particular area where we really tried hard," he said. "That was to get a couple of big, dominant defensive tackles. We just weren't able to do that."

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