Vols Stake Silverado Claim

There's a buzz and energy about Tennessee football on the nation's recruiting highways and byways that hasn't been detected this early in a campaign since the summer of 2004, when the Vols were putting together what some regarded as the nation's No. 1 signing class of 2005.

With 13 prospects in the bank, including five verbals of the four-star variety, the Vols already have three more four-star commitments than they signed last season. At this time in 2004, the Vols already had commitments from two four-star and two five-star prospects, but only six verbals overall.

Last year at this time the well ran dry for Tennessee and a prolonged drought ensued as the Vols got three commitments in four months. There were extenuating circumstances for sure, but it was so atypical for UT not to gain any high-profile pledges throughout an entire football season, during which the Vols played seven home games.

One good indicator is the Vols' recruiting success across such a wide geographic range. Another is their knack for overcoming late starts to become prominent contenders for high-profile talent.

Both of those leading indicators are present in Tennessee's pursuit of Keenan Graham, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound defensive end from Las Vegas, Nev. Ranked the nation's No. 5 defensive end by Scout.com, Graham has steadily climbed the charts from No. 23 at his position last month to his current cream of the crop status.

Likewise his scholarship total has spiraled to some 35, including notables such as USC, UCLA, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Texas. Those are his early favorites along with Tennessee which joined the race in earnest with an offer last week.

"Getting the offer from Tennessee was really something," Graham told Alex Shelton of Nevada Sports Network. "It would be a great experience to see what they are all about."

Graham is all about putting heat on the quarterback which he did in 2007 with 13.5 sacks in a 9-0 season which ended in a city championship. He had nine sacks in a four-game span and finished the season with 72 tackles.

But Graham made his biggest impression at the NIke Combine in the spring when he turned a 4.59 time in the 40, making him one of the most promising speed rushers in the Class of 2009. He's also surprising strong despite a long, lean frame. Graham bench presses 350 pounds, squats 430 and power cleans 255.

"The academics are really important to my family," Graham told Brandon Huffman of Scout.com when asked what he was looking for in a college. "I want to go to a good school with a good education. And the coaches and playing time are also important.

"I'll probably be leaving Vegas anyway, so it really doesn't matter where I go. I don't want to go somewhere too cold though."

Graham has expressed an interest in competing in the SEC and since Tennessee is noted for its speed defense it could be a good fit for both prospect and program. The Vols also lose three of their top defensive ends in 2009, meaning there could be room in the rotation for a freshman, especially in passing situations.

Graham reports a 2.9 GPA and he recorded a passing score on his SAT. If he has problems adding the size needed to play against the run at the next level, Graham has the speed and agility to play as a rush linebacker.

He doesn't appear in a hurry to make any decision soon, having said he will continue to accept offers before cutting his list of contenders for official visits in the fall.

There's nothing John Chavis would rather do than add Desert Storm to his defensive front.

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