Recruiting Front Features: Leak vs. Swain

All-American wide receiver Jayson Swain is already producing for UT: At this writing he's en route from his Alabama home in Huntsville to his future home in Knoxville to meet and greet prospects visiting campus this weekend.

"I'm on my way to Knoxville right now," he said when contacted early Friday evening. "I'm going to try help recruit some guys. I'm trying to get Aaron Sears from Alabama and I'll talk to others, too."

One player Swain will seek out is Portland Catholic quarterback Ryan Gunderson (6-5, 225, 4.8), who is ranked No. 29 nationally by The Insiders. However, Gunderson is reportedly committed to Oregon State, which makes him an unlikely candidate to switch verbals to a school some 3,000 miles away from home.

Although, stranger things have happened in the wacky world of recruiting and, undoubtedly, the opportunity at Tennessee is seemingly too good for any ambitious QB to ignore. At the very least, it's significant enough to merit a look from Gunderson who hails from the same high school that produced Joey Harrington.

Marietta, Ga., signal caller Zach Richardson (6-5, 210, 4.79) is also up on his official visit. Richardson may not need a lot of convincing, but the critical question is whether the Vols will extend a scholarship offer. If they do, you can cross No. 14 Michael Bush off your list and Gunderson, too. The Vols aren't likely to offer three QBs from a drastically reduced field when next year might yield a bumper crop of quarterback prospects, some of whom will graduate early enough to enroll at UT by January.

Earlier this week, Tennessee committed Jackson Central-Merry quarterback Bo Hardegree and Coach Phillip Fulmer has indicated the Vols wouldn't sign more than two if that many. That would seem to support the theory that states Tennessee only signs two QBs, if one is good enough to step in as a backup right away. Hardegree has been told UT plans to redshirt him this fall and get him in the mix in 2004. It seems unlikely the Vols would sign another redshirt candidate and that's what Richardson is, with only 10 games under his belt as a high school starter.

Gunderson is big enough and strong enough to fill the bill and he has the experience required. A super athlete, Bush (6-3, 230) has all the physical credentials, but only about 16 games as a starter for Louisville Male. No. 11 QB Richard Kovalcheck has listened to Tennessee's latest appeals, yet remains steadfast in his commitment to Arizona. Sophomore James Banks, who filled in three games for Casey Clausen as a true freshman last season, has been told he will be moved to receiver full time this spring.

So who will be the Vols back-up quarterback this fall?

The only certain candidate is C.J. Leak who will be a 22 year-old, fifth-year senior. Unfortunately, Leak hasn't demonstrated the ability to move the offense in spring practice, in the Orange and White Game, or in limited action last fall. He has a strong arm, good speed and excellent size, but lacks accuracy and game experience, plus he doesn't appear to see the field well.

The irony of Tennessee's predicament at quarterback is found in the fact that C.J.'s brother Chris Leak is at least partially responsible for the Vols' plight, and he continues to be a thorn in their side.

As most recall, UT's Fulmer elected to stop recruiting Leak after he publicly criticized the Vols coaching staff — for pulling C.J. too soon against Georgia — in a diary he wrote for Leak would later question Fulmer's integrity, alleging his brother C.J. was misled about his opportunity to compete for the starting job. Leak later committed to Florida at the half of the nationally televised U.S. Army All-American Bowl played earlier this month in San Antonio

. Leak has since recruited for the Gators like a man possessed and has taken his feud with Fulmer up a notch by slamming UT's Coach and program every chance he gets.

Lately, Leak has even taken to calling Tennessee commitments just to bad mouth the Vols. One of those Leak contacted is Swain, who caught two touchdowns in the All-American Bowl, including one thrown by Leak.

"He calls me a lot of times," said Swain. "I've talked to him some, most of the time I don't. He's into knocking Tennessee, talking about how they treated his brother. Everybody knows that. I don't pay any attention to it."

If Chris Leak loves his brother as much as he professes, why would he want to deny C.J. of offensive talent? Why would he conduct himself in a manner that can only make C.J.'s job harder and his life more difficult? Why would he put more pressure on his brother than already exists, when he knows C.J. is on scholarship and doesn't have the eligibility to transfer to another D-I program?

No, C.J. isn't the starting quarterback, but he is getting the same compensation package as the starter and a free education is a pretty good bargain at this point in his athletic career. C.J.'s situation is arduous enough without Chris and his father, Curtis, turning the Leak name into a four-letter word in Big Orange Country.

It's a saga that's sure to be continued over the next four years, assuming Chris Leak is the Gators' starter, and will only add fuel to a Tennessee-Florida rivalry that is already an emotional blast furnace.

If Jayson Swain is as good at pitching as he is at catching, Tennessee will be well-armed for those SEC battles.

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