Olsen, 6-6, 242, 4.71, who just returned home from the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, has completed his visits and expects to announce his decision by the end of the week. He spent most of his time in San Antonio, Texas, hanging out with Fighting Irish QB commitment Brady Quinn. Notre Dame figures to be the odd-on favorite while Olsen likes the Hurricane program and offense. Tennessee offers the best opportunity for early playing time, with starter Jason Witten likely headed to the NFL, and Olsen has enjoyed his visits to Knoxville. So the Vols can't be counted out.
A commitment from Olsen would help fill two high-priority needs for the Vols — a solid blocking tight end who is also an offensive threat and play-maker. However since UT is adding new tight end prospects to its list, it may indicate the Vols don't like their chances of getting Olsen.
The Vols are scheduled to receive a visit from No. 2 defensive tackle Lawrence "Mo" Dampeer (6-3, 280, 4.8) who is the nation's No. 2 rated defensive lineman, on Jan. 17. He has already visited Oklahoma and home-state Illinois and will visit Miami on Jan. 24 and Ohio State Jan. 31. Dampeer said he's still open on his choice and doesn't have a current favorite. That's good news for the Vols who were rated no better than No. 3 on his list in late November. Tennessee was a childhood favorite of Dampeer's, but will that be enough to overcome the allure of Miami and the local impact of Illinois? Ohio State will get the last visit and the Buckeyes are reaping the fruits of their national title victory. Still opportunity is good at Tennessee which will keep the Vols in the running, if not in the winner's circle.
Also coming in on Jan. 17 is another Illinois product with great credentials in No. 4 offensive lineman Mike Jones (6-5, 307, 5.1). He will follow that visit with a trip to Penn State on Jan. 24. He has already visited Notre Dame, Iowa and Miami. Jones doesn't list a current favorite although some feel Iowa or Notre Dame have the inside track. However, Tennessee does a great job recruiting offensive lineman and could make up a lot of ground on his official visit.
The Vols have been scratched off the list of All-American DB Prescott Burgess who announced his decision to attend Michigan during the U.S. Army all-star game.
The highest rated receiver on Tennessee's recruiting board, No. 5 Robert Meachem of Tulsa, Okla., still hasn't scheduled any recruiting visits which may indicate he's sold on the Sooners. However UT will continue to push for a visit and the opportunity for playing time speaks for itself.
However the news is better from No. 6 wideout Steve Smith (6-1, 185, 4.45) of William Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif. His father has denied rumors Steve was reconsidering California, saying: "It's down to two schools either Tennessee or USC."
Smith is expected to have a decision by this weekend after returning from the national all-star contest. Those close to the situations believe USC has the edge, but the fact Smith hasn't committed yet is viewed as a favorable sign for Tennessee, and the Vols made a very favorable impression on his official visit Nov. 8. In contrasting the visits to his finalists, Smith indicated to this writer that UT offers a better opportunity for early PT and a superior game-day experience. Whether that's enough to pull him from the west coast remains a matter of conjecture.
The Vols lost another potential play-maker recently when California JC prospect Alvin Marshall (5-9, 180, 4.35) committed to UNLV. Marshall is an explosive return specialist and a versatile offensive weapon who could have provided the Vols a true triple threat. Sources indicate the problems with UT signing Marshall had nothing to do with his talent.
No. 3 defensive end prospect Turk McBride (6-4, 240, 4.6) is expected to announce a decision soon with Miami, Ohio State and Tennessee the finalists. McBride, who visited the Vols on Oct. 26, is said to be showing a lot of interest in the Buckeyes while Miami is his unofficial favorite. Expect McBride to make his announcement after his Jan. 17 visit to Miami. At this point, it would be an upset if he chooses UT, but hope springs eternal in the hearts of recruit-nicks.
Be sure to check Part 2 of this feature on the Inside Tennessee mainpage.