Vols Play Host From Coast-to-Coast

To stay ahead of its high-caliber competition, Tennessee has to do a significantly better job of recruiting than any other perennial top 10 power, from the introduction stage right through shepherding prospects to signing day.

Without the intrinsic advantage of pursuing mostly in-state prospects, the Vols have to seek the best high school players from other states and often other regions of the country. Nebraska faces a similar situation, but the Cornhuskers have the advantage of being centrally located which makes it easier pry prospects from other regions of the country.

Many of the prospects Tennessee recruits in California have never been east of the Mississippi, while others haven't ever been west of the continental divide. Highly covet defensive end Lawrence Jackson made the trip over for Tennessee's game with Miami by private jet and was so exhausted by the visit that he immediately canceled a scheduled visit to Penn State and committed to Southern Cal the next week.

The fact the Vols have managed to pull big-time prospects from the west coast i.e. Donte Stallworth, Onterio Smith, Casey Clausen and beyond (in the case of Jonathan Mapu) is testimony to the strength and appeal of the program. UT made such an impression on William Taft receiver Steve Smith on that same Nov. 9 weekend, that it is contending with USC as a finalist for his signature.

The Vols are also moving on the fast track in their pursuit of San Diego St. Augustine High School quarterback Richard Kolvacheck (ranked No. 11 nationally) who was profiled last week on Inside Tennessee. Coach Randy Sanders, as reported here, was in attendance for Kolvacheck's Division 3 semifinal victory over Mission Bay, and the 6-3, 215-pound signal caller didn't disappoint. Kolvacheck completed 17-of-25 passes for 240 yards, one touchdown pass and he ran for a pair of TDs to lead the Saints to a 35-7 victory over the two-time Division 3 defending champions.

Kolvacheck has an .800 winning percentage in three years as a starter at St. Augustine and has completed over 60 percent of his pass attempts during that time. He's close to that 60-percent completion figure as a senior despite recovering from off-season knee surgery and playing most of the 2002 campaign with a splint on the little finger of his throwing hand.

Kolvacheck, who is regarded by many recruiting analysts as having the strongest throwing arm on the west coast, will lead St. Augustine to a Division 3 championship showdown against Marion High School this Saturday (Dec. 14) and is expected to fly to Knoxville for his official the next day. However, if the Saints win he may wait until Tuesday to take that visit in order to celebrate the championship with his teammates.

An avid surfer, Kolvacheck admits to knowing very little about Tennessee other than it has a great football program that once featured Peyton Manning. He hasn't been to the south, much less seen a college game played there, but he's going in with an open mind, admitting he doesn't yet know what to expect.

The Vols experienced no such problems in gaining a recent verbal commitment from tight end Brad Cottam of Cordova, Tenn. There was no need to explain Tennessee tradition, or extoll the virtues of the Vols legions of fans, or to describe the magnitude of games played at Neyland Stadium. The only problem is that prospects of Cottam's caliber are rare in the Volunteer State, especially this season. UT may end up offering five in-state prospects and will fortunate to sign four.

By comparison: Over 30 percent of the top 300 prospects nationally come from three states Texas, Florida and California. There are also a ton of prospects that come from border states like North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and Mississippi, but Tennessee encounters bitter resistance from two major D-I schools in each of those neighboring states.

Though distance isn't as much a problem in recruiting the fertile football fields of Florida, Tennessee has a different culture and climate than most prospects from the Sunshine State are used to and, consequently, has to do a better job of making players feel comfortable when they visit.

That's exactly what the Vols did when Anthony "Amp" Hill made his official visit last weekend. Hill, the nation's No. 10 rated wide receiver, reports that he spent Friday getting acquainted with the players, campus, coaches and city. On Saturday he learned about the educational opportunities at UT, toured the facilities, enjoyed a catered dinner in the press box of Neyland Stadium and later wore a Big Orange game jersey while walking onto a lighted Shield Watkins Field. Hill's one-on-one with Coach Fulmer convinced him that the opportunity for early playing time was genuine, as did his conversations with host Tony Brown, another Florida wide receiver who chose to become a Vol while turning down FSU.

Ultimately, the whole recruiting experience was designed to give Hill, of First Coast High School in Jacksonville, a glimpse of what his life could be like at Tennessee. The Vols made a good impression and must follow up with solid work from Coach Jimmy Ray Stephens as well as a good in-home visit from Fulmer to remain competitive against the inherent advantage enjoyed by Florida and Florida State.

All in all, it's an uphill fight that UT's coaching staff knows all too well. Despite these handicaps, the Vols put together top five and top ten classes year in and year out, but there's nothing routine about the challenge. Nor is there anything ordinary about the achievement.

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