Vols, Gators Vie for Top Gun

Tennessee's robust rivalry and perennial power struggle with archenemy Florida apparently knows no bounds, a point underscored by a budding bi-coastal recruiting battle for high-caliber California quarterback Josh Nunes.

If that name doesn't sound familiar it could become so in the not so distant future should this strong-armed taskmaster decide the competition and atmosphere of the SEC is worth the sojourn to the steamy south from the sunny coast.

But I'm getting ahead of myself because there are plenty of other options for Upland, Calif., native. He currently has 19 offers headed by Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Stanford, BYU and Texas Tech. Other offers are sure to follow but Nunes is hoping to start paring down the principle players.

"I know he told me they're probably going to come out with his five, six choices right after this camp coming up," said Tim Salter who has been head coach at Upland High School since 1994. "I think he has 19 offers now. He's going to come out with his top five or six probably some time next week. To be honest with you I don't know which ones. You know Florida just came in with an offer on Thursday morning. Duke University was out Thursday afternoon to watch him work out."

As a junior, Josh Nunes connected on 124-of-216 passes (57.4 completion percentage with 14 touchdowns vs. only five interceptions, garnering Baseline League Co-MVP honors. He was chosen as an All-State underclassman after a sophomore season in which he threw for 1,388 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also rushed for seven scores.

In many respects Nunes is a classic pocket passer with the requisite arm strength to throw the deep out routes from the far hash mark. He reads defenses well and makes great decisions. He's also a proven leader with a reputation for mental acuity and physical toughness.

"He's a fantastic young man," Salter stated. "It's like I tell a lot of people he's a better person than he is a quarterback and he is an outstanding quarterback. Big kid 6-4, 6-41/2 right now about 214 pounds right in that range.

"He's actually competing today (Friday) and tomorrow in a camp at Santa Barbara. It's a camp put on by Eddie DeBartola and Steve Clark, the Super Seven or something. He's up at that camp and I'm going up tomorrow to watch him."

Nunes, who is a four-star prospect ranked No. 20 at his position by Scout.com and No. 182 overall, has put on some impressive exhibitions of his passing skills in recent spring practice sessions. He has also displayed a body that is taller and heavier than the 6-3, 185, he played at as a junior.

"We've had a lot of good compliments on him lately," said Salter. "The Florida coach came out and thought he threw the ball really, really well. Nebraska was out just the other day too and their quarterback coach said he was as good fundamentally and velocity on the ball as anybody out there."

That's high praise indeed, and something Tennessee saw when they offered him on May 8.

"Tennessee has been out," Salter said. "They've been real good to him. They have stayed in communication with him and he's very excited about the offer by Tennessee. The offensive line coach (Greg Adkins) came out first then Coach (Dave) Clausen came out after that, and I know they've had a number of good conversations. He's stayed in close contact with him ever since the offer came through."

Plans call for Nunes to trim his list to a final five next week. If the Vols and Gators make the cut it is on reputation alone since he hasn't seen either campus yet. Although no specifics can offered, the Nunes family could be paying some official visits after the school year ends on June 11 and before football workouts begin.

"I think he wants to make as informed a decision as possible," Salter said. "That's why he's taking his time and thinking it through. He's a very, very good student. On a GPA scale of 4.0 he's a 4.5, 4.6. He's an honors AP student. In a graduating class of 900 he's easy in the top one percent."

Nunes, who also scored a 1900 on his SAT, brings his cerebral approach to the field of competition.

"I think with him it's about moving the chain," Salter said. "He understands that his responsibility whether he's throwing a check down to the back or avoiding a loss is to keep us in good down-and-distance. What he does is read really well. His progression of reading is a lot faster than most high school quarterbacks. He's able to shutdown one side of the field because of rotation when the safeties come from the backside. If it's not there he's very good at just taking off and getting what he can so that we don't lose yardage. That's part of his makeup just staying on the field and moving the chains."

Although he runs a respectable 4.85 in the 40, it's his ability to buy time under pressure, along with his quick release, that make him difficult to sack.

"He's very mature for his age," Salter added. "When we throw on first down you'll never see him take a sack. He just doesn't. He gets rid of the ball. He has no problem throwing it away if he has to. That keeps us in second and ten instead of second and twice that. That's the part about taking off and running the ball, too. He understands making first downs and the shorter distance situation. It's really dialed into him."

Meanwhile, Tennessee and Florida are locked into a long distance recruiting match for arguably the nation's best available quarterback prospect in the Class of 2009.

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