Defections: A double-edge Sword

Prospect comings and goings on Thursday involving Tennessee graphically demonstrate that the first casualty of recruiting is predictability.

On a day that UT commitment Nashville Hillsboro High School defensive back Chris Russell decommitted, Cincinnati Woodard defensive end Raymond Edwards cast his lot with Tennessee.

Anyone who saw this one coming six weeks ago deserves the Nostradamus Citation for Meritorious Psychic Achievement. Russell had just accepted an offer from the Vols after an in-home visit from Coach Phillip Fulmer. When asked about the commitment Russell seemed moved by emotions as he describe the opportunity as a dream come true.

"I just like the tradition at Tennessee," he said. "I used to watch them when I was younger and me and a friend of mine had dreams of playing together in high school and going to the University of Tennessee. Now it's like a dream come true."

This is the same Chris Russell who later decided to visit Colorado without informing Tennessee's coaches and decommitted with a hint of regret – explaining how the opportunity to play cornerback was the primary motivation for the reversal. Tennessee coaches maintain he would have been given a chance to play corner, but by that time the relationship and trust had unraveled.

Russell follows in the footsteps of former Hillsboro teammate and 2002 Vol commitment John Henry, an offensive lineman of considerable proportions, who abandoned Tennessee at the altar on national signing day 2002 to sign with MTSU.

Meanwhile Edwards (6-6, 236, 4.6) made his commitment to the Vols after strongly considering South Carolina and decommitting from Purdue. He explained how he felt most comfortable at Tennessee during his visit there on Dec. 12.

However when he was interviewed after that visit to UT, he told this writer that the visit rated about an 8 and that Purdue, which he visited in October, was still his leader. He soon announced he would become a Boilermaker before reconsidering his decision in mid-January and switching to the Vols.

All in all it's not a bad swap for Tennessee which needs defensive end prospects at this point more they need cornerbacks, having already committed two last week and hoping to get another from Florida blue chipper Kenny Scott.

As a senior, Edwards had 110 tackles, 12 sacks, 5 hurries and seven forced fumbles playing middle linebacker in a 4-3 scheme for an 8-2 team. Edwards, who is currently rated No. 36 at his position by The Insiders, took recruiting trips to Ohio State, South Carolina and Boston College in addition to Tennessee and Purdue. He is currently playing basketball at Woodard and averaging 20 points and 13 rebounds per game.

Another adventure in the Is He or Isn't He? shell game involves Parade All-American offensive lineman and "sort of Tennessee commitment" Eric Young of Union, S.C. who is visiting North Carolina this weekend after committing to Tennessee last weekend as well as listening to 11th-hour appeals from Clemson and South Carolina this week.

Whether Tennessee is first or fourth for Young is something that may not be known until signing day. Last Sunday he said his commitment was solid and he virtually dared another school to convince him otherwise. On Thursday after talking to Lou Holtz and Tommy Bowden he seemed confused and uncertain.

And finally the latest entry in UT's ‘Thanks But No Thanks QB Sweepstakes' is Ryan Gunderson of Portland, Oregon. Tennessee gave its best sales pitch last weekend, but it wasn't enough to dissuade Gunderson from sticking by his commitment to Oregon State. The last three prospects to investigate the job — Gunderson, Richard Kovalcheck and JaMarcus Russell of Mobile, Ala., all agree its a great opportunity, but all have essentially added that it's just too far from home.

This is a common theme heard during this recruiting campaign and with some notable exceptions, like the aforementioned Chris Russell, most prospects are opting to stay closer to home. Perhaps that's a mindset that's evolved from 9-11 and a nation living with the perpetual threat of terrorism.

Regardless of the reason, it puts additional pressure on Tennessee to sign top prospects since the bulk of its signees come from out of state. Add other factors to the challenge this year like an 8-5 record, the looming NCAA investigation into the overblown Tee Martin situation and the falling out with all-American quarterback Chris Leak and it's easier to understand why the Vols has had trouble attracting a highly-ranked quarterback prospect in the Class of 2003.

Next year will be different and the search is sure to start in earnest soon after UT's staff closes the book on the Class of 2003. Of course, a year is a long time in the life of a prize football prospect. For that matter when you're waiting for signatures to come in an hour can seem like an eternity and it's certainly plenty of time to change some prospects minds forever.

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