Fellows Follows Heart, Nerve To Tennessee

Through the sheer power of unshakable self-confidence, RoShaun "Ro" Fellows managed to achieve something most football prospects never approach — he condensed the recruiting process to its core.

Fellows, a 6-1, 185-pound, multitalented player from Warren, Ark., with 4.41 speed, waited until a few hours after his team won its second straight Class-AAA state title to announce he would sign with Tennessee.

He made the decision without attending a single camp, taking a single visit (even to Tennessee) or giving any thought to the repercussions of leaving his home state to play for a school that has become a rival over a decade of heated battles.

"About two months ago I made my mind up that I was going to go to Tennessee," he said. "I've been to the state of Tennessee, but I've never been to the college before."

Fellows' announcement made short work of what most often becomes a protracted process of never-ending visits, phone calls, rumors, reversals, stories and updates. His unpretentious declaration made without a press conference culminated a procedure that began 16 months ago, but never followed conventional steps.

"It all started in the summertime right before my 11th grade year," Fellows recalled. "I had a track meet and Coach (Steve) Caldwell came to see me run a relay. Then he started coming to school, taking a look at my transcripts and stuff. Finally, he got some tape of me. He saw a tape of me and Bret (Smith) playing. He didn't get to come to see me at games because they were always practicing, and then when we got into the playoffs they had the bowl game. I guess they got a lot of information about me from the media."

Outside of Arkansas, Fellows wasn't very well known by the media. He made a decision to skip the Nike circuit and the proliferation of summer football camps that can boost a players stock and status. Again, he had enough confidence in his ability to play the game that he was able to forgo the ratings-grabbing run of camps in favor of focusing on team goals.

"Me and Bret kind of skipped the Nike Camps, or whatever, because we wanted to be there for our team," he said of his wide receiver teammate. "We didn't want to get into individual stuff."

The plan worked as Warren posted a 14-1 record in 2002 highlighted by a state title. Over the last two seasons, the Lumberjacks compiled a 29-1 mark and are 37-5 during Fellows three years as a starter.

Over that three-year span, Fellows has amassed over 4,000 all-purpose yards as a wide receiver, kick return specialist and part-time tailback. On defense, he intercepted 23 passes at safety and cornerback. He had 72 catches for over 1,200 yards this season despite missing three games with a hairline fracture of his sternum. He picked off 10 passes as a junior. That number dropped to six this season with Fellows playing mostly at the corner.

"I'd play some at safety," he said, "but most of the time I'd play a cover corner when we played a passing team. I grew to be a more aggressive corner. On offense, sometimes I'd run a sweep out of the shotgun."

In Saturday's 38-28 victory over Rivercrest, Fellows caught five passes for 78 yards and picked up 13 yards in one carry. He also paced the Lumberjack defense with seven tackles, including six solo stops.

As a junior, Fellows caught 59 passes for 944 yards and 14 touchdowns, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and averaged 21 yards per return. In this season's only setback against Class-5A power Springdale, Fellows returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted a pass. So what will he play at Tennessee?

"They had me as an athlete at first," he said. "Now they've go me as a DB."

That Fellows is able to leave his home state for a school he's never visited is testimony to the effective recruiting job performed by Caldwell, and an affinity Fellows has developed for the Big Orange.

"The past few months Coach Caldwell and I have developed a great relationship," he said. "He's been honest with me, I've been honest with them. He's a good man, a very honest guy. That's what I like about him. He's very up front with me. He tells me what Tennessee wants and he tells me what they don't want. I guess I have what Tennessee wanted."

Fellows assessment is undoubtedly accurate, but it's also a little surprising to some UT fans that have never seen the Warren star in action, but have seen his low rating by The Insiders and other recruiting ranking sources.

"Media always tries to stereotype everybody," Fellows said when asked about the rankings. "You're never as a good as they say you are, and you're never as bad as they say you are."

Neither is Fellows worried about the competition for playing time at Tennessee.

"I'm aware there is going to be competition because it's Tennessee," he said, "but I don't think I'm going to be worried about it. As long as I go out there and compete and do what the coaches expect of me, I'll be all right."

In many regards, it was the collection of talent that characterizes Tennessee football that originally attracted Fellows.

"I've been a Tennessee fan the last few years," he said. "I was a Hog fan all of my life. Growing up here, everybody is a Hog fan around here. I became a Tennessee fan. I used to watch them when Tee Martin, Peerless Price and Travis Henry used to play there."

Notwithstanding the admiration and allegiance Fellows has for Tennessee, it's still hard for a gifted Arkansas high school player to leave the state without facing the slings and arrows of outraged Hog fans.

"Arkansas is my home state," he said. "You know how it is in Arkansas, good players stay in Arkansas. I believe in that somewhat, but sometimes you've just got to go out on your own and explore your options a bit."

Fellows, who plans to major in engineering, also plays basketball at Warren with Smith and describes himself as a pretty good player.

"I play basketball to stay in shape," he said. "I averaged 12 points a game last year. I'm a pretty good basketball player, but I'm a better football player."

Now that Fellows has cast his lot with the Vols, he'll encourage Smith to do the same. Rated the nation's No. 20 wide receiver prospect nationally, Smith, 6-2, 175, 4.5, went over 1,000 yards this season in passing, running and receiving. In fact, Fellows and Smith will get their first look at Tennessee when they take an official visit to Knoxville together on Jan. 17.

"Me and Bret are going up together," Fellows said. "I'm doing a lot of recruiting with him. You've just got to get up enough nerve to leave your home state. There's going to be a lot of pressure. People are going to be pressuring you, but you've just got to get up enough nerve to leave."

Blessed with the nerves of a cat burglar, Fellows may steal a lot of thunder from higher rated prospects at Tennessee.

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