Vols Make Waves on Coast

When Lane Kiffin came from the coast to take over as head coach at Tennessee, he not only brought his own system, his own staff and his own unique style to the job, he brought the talent rich state of California into the orbit of Planet Orange.

Having spent nearly half his life in the Golden State as a college quarterback and graduate assistant at Fresno State, a multitasking assistant at uber power USC and a 20-game stint as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. His time at Fresno and USC entailed traveling the state from San Diego to Eureka from the Napa Valley to Death Valley from Big Bear to Big Sur. Those duties not only honed his skills as a recruiter they also allowed him to build contacts that are serving him well as he attempts to restock UT's coffers with gridiron talent needed to challenge the SEC powers that be.

That long-term investment is paying immediate dividends for Kiffin, as he coordinates his first complete recruiting campaign as a collegiate head coach. The list of high-caliber prospects from California considering UT from the Class of 2010 dwarfs any prior year. In truth outside of Junior College prospects the Vols have had little success attracting west coast football talent to east Tennessee.

No. 3 ranked tight end Christian Thomas, 6-3, 235, 4.6, of Highland High School in Palmdale, No. 3 defensive tackle Cassius Marsh, 6-4, 280, 4.90, Oak Christian High School in WestLake Village, No. 6 wide receiver Robert Woods, 6-1, 170, 4.47, Junipero Serra High School, Gardena, No. 7 safety Dietrich Riley, 6-0, 181, 4.80, St. Francis High School, La Canada, No. 12 running back Jordon James, 5-10, 185, 4.46, Corona Senior High School, Corona., No. 13 quarterback, Jessie Scroggins, 6-2, 191, Lakewood High School, Lakewood, No. 25 wide receive and No. 9 cornerback Demetrius Wright, 6-2, 185, 4.52, Corona Senior High School, Corona are all four-star prospects that list Tennessee as a school of interest.

Another California prospect to fall into that category is No. 10 ranked outside linebacker Josh Shirley, although he plays defensive end and defensive tackle Henry J. Kaiser High School in Fontana. A top 300 prospect, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect, is the younger brother of Jason Shirley who played at Fresno State before being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

As a junior, Josh Shirley tallied 88 tackles with 17 sacks, 12 passes knocked down and three forced fumbles, earning First Team All-State Underclass by GoldenStatePreps.com and Third Team All-State among all classes. He was one of only ten underclassmen selected to the all-star squad. A solid student with a 3.3 GPA, Shirley was also named to the All Sunkist Academic team.

Shirley also has excellent strength — 350 bench, 585 dead lift, 525 squat, 280 power clean — and he could make could make the transition to collegiate linebacker or a defensive end. Stanford recently offered him as a rush end hybrid and Tennessee may well see him in a similar role.

"They (the Cardinal) offered me as a hybrid, where I'm standing up but also playing with my hand on the ground," Shirley told Scout.com's Brandon Huffman. "Yeah, I was really excited. Coach Jim Harbaugh, the head coach, offered me."

He currently ranks his two favorite schools as UCLA and Tennessee, but indicates he will take all five official visits before rendering his decision. He also likes Arizona, Fresno State, San Diego State and USC.

"I want to take all my time, see what my opportunities are," he said. "I'd like to take all five visits," said Shirley. "I'm looking for things like the academics of a school and the way they run their program."

It's a credit to Kiffin and his staff that Tennessee is the only school outside the state of California that Shirley is considering. And who better to sell east Tennessee to a prospect from the west coast than a coach who's at home in both states.

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