Vol Haul Lacks Dash of Home

If you remember Tennessee's 2003 season you recall a team that had it's greatest success on the road with victories at Florida, Alabama and No. 6 Miami, but lost to Georgia, 41-14, at home in a game that cost the Vols (10-2) a shot at the SEC title.

The 2003 football season is much like the 2009 recruiting campaign in that UT is cleaning up on high-caliber, out-of-state prospects, but has suffered some serious setbacks in the Volunteer State, beginning with the loss of Memphis Briarcrest offensive lineman Austin Long to, you guessed it, Georgia. That was followed by the loss of another top 300 talent and four-star offensive lineman in Alex Bullard to Notre Dame.

Henry County athlete Marsalis Teague a four-star prospect ranked No. 22 among the nation's senior quarterbacks, currently favors Miami, although UT is still a contender.

Meanwhile the Vols appear to have cooled on Memphis Kingsbury running back Gabriel Hunter, and have yet to offer Knoxville Farragut High School offensive lineman Will Jackson, who is ranked the nation's No. 17 offensive guard by Scout.com. Jackson has offers from Georgia Tech, West Virginia, Mississippi State, Auburn, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, Kentucky and Ole Miss.

Other D-I in-state prospects the Vols appear to be passing on include: No. 39 safety Gene Robinson and No. 37 weak-side linebacker Derrick Webb, both of Memphis Whitehaven. Robinson has offers from Alabama, Colorado, Memphis, Mississippi and Tennessee. Webb has a couple of smaller offers but could play himself into an SEC scholarship with a stellar senior season.

That leaves five in-state prospects the Vols are actively recruiting and have offered — No. 27 corner Eric "Flash" Gordon of Nashville HIllsboro, No. 3 wide receiver Marlon Brown of Harding Academy, No. 49 tight end Daniel Hood of Knoxville Catholic, No. 53 tight end Thad McHaney of Brentwood Academy and Teague, who blazes a sub 4.4 forty.

To this point Tennessee has commitments from two in-state prospects — Dominique Allen, a fullback from Henry County and Kevin Revis, an offensive guard from Rhea County High School. Signing any more than five prospects from the state might be ambitious as numbers are presently constituted.

Note this isn't a criticism of the Vols recruiting strategy. They aren't going to sign every in-state prospect they recruit, or offer every in-state prospect they like. Recruiting is a fluid process that is designed to meet team needs first and is adjusted according to the availability and sign-ability of prospects.

With that qualifier in place we should note that the Vols lost four of the top five in-state prospects in 2008 and they have unofficially lost two of the top five in-state prospects from the Class of 2009, while failing to commit any of the state's four-star high school talents.

Furthermore, the Vols aren't a clear-cut leader for any of the remaining four-star, in-state prospects. Of course, the biggest prize is five-star wide receiver Marlon Brown, who is ranked No. 3 at his position nationally. UT is generally regarded as the team to beat for this premier play-maker, but he recently completed a visit to the west coast to participate in the Rising Stars Camp at USC. He also likes UCLA and Norm Chow's offense as well as the educational opportunities at Stanford. Florida, Georgia, LSU join UT as SEC contenders. Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ohio State are other prominent programs he is closely examining.

Being the state's No. 1 ranked prospect and the nation's No. 19 overall, Brown's decision takes on a critical mass significance for UT's recruiting campaign. Some of that stems from Patrick Turner's decision to sign with USC in 2005. Turner was also a five-star receiver during a time when the school formerly known as Wide Receiver U, was in need of a receiver of Turner's size, speed, strength and skill set. The 11th hour loss of the Nashville mega star to the bright lights of La La Land hurt the Vols from a talent standpoint as well as an image angle.

Ironically, Tennessee still signed the nation's No. 1 class in 2005, although it lacked a big-play talent of Turner's caliber, a point that would prove costly during ensuing seasons.

Clearly UT is in better position to absorb the loss of a five-star talent with No. 6 wideout JeRon Stokes a solid verbal commitment. The Vols are also contenders for the nation's No. 2 wideout, Rueben Randall of Bastrop, La., No. 4 Kendall Kelly of Gadsden, Ala., and No. 7 Rodney Smith of Miami, Fla. Getting any one of the three would be a coup, adding Brown would be a bonanza of Biblical proportions.

So do the Vols need to sign Marlon Brown to have a great recruiting season? The answer, as 2005 attests, is "No," with a caveat. The Vols do need Brown on board to have a good in-state recruiting campaign. Having the lion's share of Tennessee's top talent on the roster is an important component in successful recruiting at UT. Moreover the success rate of in-state players tends to trend higher than the overall average.

For sure the state's largest University can't continue to lose the state's best players and not have it come back to hurt at some point. That's why the remaining in-state targets are high priorities and why Marvelous Marlon Brown is a must-have prospect.


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