Vols May Lose Thigpen

Put this one in the file marked K for karma, or write it off to the axiom ‘turnabout is fair play,' or chalk it up to the widely held belief that ‘all's fair in love and football recruiting', or maybe it's merely a matter of cause and effect.

A day after recovering four-star safety Nyshier Oliver from a commitment he made to Notre Dame, the Vols are now trying to fend off the Fighting Irish for the services of longtime UT commitment Damien Thigpen, a four-star running back and one of the fastest prospects in the nation.

And Notre Dame isn't the only team in hot pursuit of the 5-foot-9, 170-pound blazer, who turns an electrifying 4.34 in the 40 and a scintillating short shuttle time of 4.08. This weekend, Thigpen, who is from Manassas, Va., is going to west coast for a visit to UCLA. He committed to UT last April.

He is also planning visits for South Bend, Ind., as well as Starkville, Miss., where new head coach Dan Mullen has contacted Thigpen and a Mississippi State assistant is scheduled for an in-home visit tonight (Jan. 29) with the Stonewall Jackson High School senior.

Thigpen has remained steadfast in his pledge to the Vols through the coaching change and right through an official visit he took to Knoxville last weekend.

From all available reports it appears Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis had approximately an hour phone conversation with Thigpen on Wednesday at which time he made an offer. The Fighting Irish see Thigpen as a running back and slot receiver.

Ranked No. 33 among running backs, Thigpen had an injury shortened senior season in which he played just five games. However he still finished the year with 806 yards in 123 carries with 16 touchdowns — an average of 161 yards and 3.2 touchdowns per game. He also caught four passes for 112 yards. Durability is the only question about Thigpen who also missed three games as a junior with a different ankle injury.

The addition of three new contenders with signing day less than a week away probably means Thigpen will not sign on Feb. 4, but at such time he has seen what he needs to see and knows what he wants to do.

Part of the problem from Tennessee's standpoint is the already uncertain status of running back David Oku, who is considering Syracuse after a recent visit there. The only other back the Vols have a commitment from is fullback Toney Williams.

Thigpen was the Vols second commitment following JeRon Stokes, a four-star wide receiver out of Philadelphia who is now considering Tennessee, Michigan, Georgia and Illinois. He visited Gainesville on Jan. 18. Thigpen, Stokes and Oku are the three highest rated skill players the Vols have committed to the class. The are also three of the fastest prospects in UT's class. Two other soft verbals are Aubrey Phillips, an offensive tackle out of Olive Branch, Miss, and D.T. Shackelford, a linebacker from Decatur, Ala.

Lane Kiffin & Co. have their work cut out for them heading into national signing day, as they need some big scores and must play great defense.

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