Vols Land LB, QB in Jackson

Tennessee got the linebacker it most wanted and a quarterback it desperately needed Tuesday afternoon, when Daniel Brooks and Bo Hardegree, both of Jackson Central Merry High School, committed to become Volunteers.

Brooks (6-4, 235, 4.58) is rated the nation's No. 8 linebacker prospect by The Insiders and is one of Border Wars top 101 players at any position in the country. More significantly for Tennessee, he's the No. 1 player in the Volunteer State which makes him a top priority for the Vols.

He amassed more than 230 tackles the last two seasons as an inside linebacker for Central-Merry and has a reputation as one of the most punishing tacklers in the nation. Brooks is often compared to former UT great Al Wilson who also attended Central-Merry.

By contrast, Hardegree (6-5, 190, 4.75) is rated No. 90 in the nation at quarterback. However that ranking is very misleading. Hardegree didn't gain exposure from football camps last spring because he was competing as one of the nation's top 50 junior tennis players. He's ranked No. 47 overall among America's under-18 netters and No. 7 in the southeast. To be that tall and rank that high in a sport that difficult to master, requires outstanding athletic skills, which indicates Hardegree can master the mechanics to play QB in the SEC.

"Mentally it will help you out in tough situations because in tennis you're out there by yourself," Hardegree said. "I like the team concept a lot better, going out to battle with people besides yourself."

When asked to describe himself as a quarterback, Hardegree answered with the conviction of a young man that believes in himself.

"I've got a strong arm and good feet," he said. "I can throw the ball 70 yards in the air and there aren't any throws I don't feel comfortable making. I've got good presence. I study film real well. I like doing stuff like that and that helps me. In college, you've got to live in the film room."

Hardegree's understanding of the game has been augmented by the experience of growing up the son of a football coach. His father, Jim, is the the head coach at Jackson Central-Merry and a 23-year veteran of the profession. Bo has had maximum exposure to the game of football his entire life and has an engrained appreciation of what it takes succeed.

Over the last two seasons, he has led the Cougars to a 21-4 record including a 12-1 mark in 2002. As a junior, Hardegree passed for 1,650 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last season, he improved to 1,950 yards and 23 touchdowns with only six interceptions. He also ran for three scores.

Moreover, Hardegree carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average and has scholarship offers from several Ivy League schools.

Despite this list of impressive credentials, Hardegree has been waiting for an offer from Ole Miss, Alabama or Tennessee. As a lifelong fan of the Vols, he hoped to have a chance to prove himself at his home-state university. On Tuesday the offer he'd awaited for so long finally arrived.

"We sat and had our meeting and that's when they told me they were going to offer me," Hardegree said of his meeting with Tennessee's head coach. "Basically we said we're going to commit. They had already offered Daniel and I sat down with Coach Fulmer and we talked about it. I said, that's what I want to do."

Once the business was concluded, the rest of the visit was pure pleasure.

"We just talked about when we're going to release it and then we had a good rest of the day," Hardegree said. "We just kind of went out to some different spots around town, meeting some people and talking Tennessee football. It was a great time."

On Wednesday evening, Brooks announced his decision on a local radio talk show in Jackson. While making the announcement, he accidentally let the cat out of the bag about Hardegree's commitment to the Vols.

"I was out at dinner," Hardegree said. "Daniel called me and told me to be ready to answer the phone."

Before he started answering the phone, Hardegree placed a call to Tennessee punter Dustin Colquitt, who served as his host during his official visit to UT last weekend.

"I feel great about it," he said of the offer. "I had a great weekend this weekend and I just got off the phone with my host Dustin Colquitt, I talked to him about it. I really like the coaching staff. I like Coach (Randy) Sanders and Coach Fulmer of course. Coach Chavis came down yesterday as well."

Brooks couldn't be reached at home this evening, but spoke to The Insiders Scott Kennedy earlier and talked about his choice.

"I committed to Tennessee today," said Brooks. "They were the school I felt most comfortable with, even though I really liked Alabama and Ole Miss. Coach Fulmer was here at my house yesterday, and my quarterback and I both committed. I'm not taking any more visits or anything. I'm committed to Tennessee."

Although Brooks had kept his thoughts private during the recruiting process, his aunt, Tammy Robinson, who he lives with in Jackson, told Inside Tennessee that he just wanted to give all the schools a fair chance.

Robinson, a police officer in Jackson who is assigned to Central-Merry, said Brooks made his announcement and took off to avoid an anticipated barrage of phone calls.

"He made his announcement about 45 minutes ago and then he took off," said Robinson. "He knew it would make some people mad, but he had to do what was best for him."

Alabama had pushed hard for Brooks commitment and Ole Miss came on strong at the end, but the pull of Tennessee was too strong in the end to overcome.

"His mother (Ella Brock) lives in Mississippi," said Robinson. "He grew up there but Tennessee has made quite an impression on him. Tennessee and the bottom of my boot."

That's a distinction Brooks' aunt won't have to share with anyone.

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