College football is a prime-time sport in the state of Tennessee, but on Signing Day each February, Phillip Fulmer's Vols regularly go out of state to ink a majority of their players. The same can be said for Vanderbilt. Last season, the Volunteers signed just five in-state prospects and the Commodores signed six.
The bottom line is that Tennessee just doesn't produce deep numbers of SEC or major I-A college prospects. That reason is mainly because of population -- there are 5.8 million people in Tennessee, compared to 8.6 million in Georgia, 17 million in Florida, 22.1 million in Texas and 35.4 million in California. In the recruiting class of 2003, the state of Tennessee had 48 I-A signees, while Georgia produced 123, Florida 265, California 285 and Texas 345. In recruiting, quantity usually means quality, especially at the top.
This season, however, four of the nation's top 50 prospects are from the state of Tennessee. The four prospects -- WR Patrick Turner, RB LaMarcus Coker, OT Michael Oher and LB Todd Cox -- could play for anyone in the country. They are all five-star recruits.
"Big" wide receivers are in, and Turner, from Goodpasture High School in Madison, fits that bill. Turner stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 210 pounds. Although he doesn't have the speed of top national prospects Derrick Williams (Greenbelt, Md.) or Fred Rouse (Tallahassee, Fl.), Turner is an outstanding talent with great size. In fact, he has tight end size and receiver speed and is very tough to bring down. Turner possesses tremendous hands, concentration and body control and is deadly in the red zone.
Turner is also an instinctive wideout who does all the little things coaches love. He's great in the air, will go down and get the ball and uses his body very well to shield off defenders. When things break down in the pocket, Turner instinctively works his way back toward his quarterback. And the icing on the cake is that he's an above-average blocker downfield. Turner is the No. 3-rated wide receiver in the nation.
Coker, at 5-11 and 195 pounds, is a much coveted home-run tailback from Antioch. He has the explosiveness to score every time he gets the ball. Coker is much more than a speed back, though. He has excellent vision and balance, which enables him to use his blocks and clear tacklers in traffic. Once he gets a seam, forget about it -- he's gone. Over the offseason Coker has put on 10 pounds of muscle and lowered his forty time to 4.4. Coker is the No. 2-ranked running back in the country.
Oher, at 6-5 and 340 pounds, is a massive offensive tackle from Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. He is a raw OL prospect with a great upside. Oher has great footwork and agility for a big man and really moves well. This allows him to play in space as well as any tackle in the nation. At the high school level, he just overwhelms defenders. Oher is currently the No. 4-rated offensive line prospect in the nation.
Cox, at 6-1 and 195 pounds, is from Harding Academy, also in Memphis. He's an absolutely vicious hitter at linebacker who can play sideline to sideline. Cox is also an excellent pass rusher who sheds blocks well. He shows super instincts for the position and a knack for always being in the right place. Cox is currently rated as the No. 7 linebacker prospect in the country.
So who has the inside track for this super quartet? Tennessee, of course. Coker has already committed to the Vols, but now says he will take visits to Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas and possibly Florida. Tennessee will battle LSU, Miami, Florida and USC for Cox. The Volunteers will be very difficult to beat for these two, but they will face a tougher challenge to sign Turner and Oher. Turner also is strongly considering Miami, Florida, Oklahoma, USC and Texas, while Ole Miss, Oklahoma, and some others will put up a huge fight for Oher.
These aren't the only big-time prospects from Tennessee: Jeff Cottam, from Germantown High School, is one of the nation's top tight ends. He's still undecided, but Tennessee should have an advantage since his brother, Brad, is an OL for the Vols. Marsalous Johnson is an undersized but versatile athlete who has already committed to Tennessee. He could end up playing wide receiver or cornerback. Brentwood High School defensive end Barry Turner has scholarship offers from Tennessee, South Carolina, Auburn, Florida, Nebraska and Georgia. Malcolm Rawls, an offensive lineman from Memphis East, has some impressive scholarship offers from such schools as Tennessee, Ole Miss, FSU, Memphis, Stanford, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame.
Wide receiver J.D. Lawhorn (Memphis University School) and punter Blake McAdams (Ripley High School) have committed to Ole Miss, while quarterback Cade Thompson (Maryville High School) has committed to North Carolina and defensive end Barron Huber (Powell High School) has committed to Alabama.
Tennessee may not be an annual recruiting hotbed, but it is well-represented this season with a host of top-notch I-A prospects.