Football recruiting: Official visitors of note

Vanderbilt's McGugin Athletic Center was in prime official-visit mode Friday, as football recruits began arriving for the first of two key January visit weekends. Some prospects arrived Friday, while others with basketball conflicts were expected in Saturday morning.

Vanderbilt's McGugin Athletic Center was in prime official-visit mode Friday, as football recruits began arriving for the first of two key January visit weekends. Some prospects arrived Friday, while others with basketball conflicts were expected in Saturday morning.

Visitors were expected from as far west as Texas, as far north as New Jersey, and as far south as South Florida. In addition to the usual campus tours and academic counseling, visitors will also be treated to an SEC men's basketball contest between Vanderbilt and Florida at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Perhaps the most notable expected visitor was receiver / safety Kenton Thornton (6-5, 225) of Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J. Thornton, the son of former Dallas Cowboy Bruce Thornton, was a University of Texas commit a year ago who declined (for unspecified reasons) to sign on signing day. A Dallas-St. Mark's graduate, Thornton elected to attend Blair Academy for a postgraduate year, where he starred in 2004 in football and is also a basketball standout.

After a 28-catch, 518-yard receiving year, Thornton was named Player of the Year by the Newark Star-Ledger. Texas has re-offered, as have SMU and Utah. Vanderbilt has a relationship with the receiver through linebackers coach Warren Belin, who formerly coached at Dallas-based SMU.

"Kelton is a very talented athlete," said Coach Maynard Lee, who coached Thornton a year ago at St. Mark's. "He made big plays on both sides of the ball for us. He has tremendous potential as a receiver, whether it be as a big, athletic wideout, or one of these new-age tight ends that so many teams are using.

"The sky's the limit as far as his potential. He can be as good as he wants to work to be."

Vanderbilt has already received commitments from receivers Justin Wheeler (North Augusta, S.C.) and Broderick Stewart (Gainesville, Ga.), but is expected to sign as many as two more receivers to help replace departing seniors Brandon Smith and Chris Young.

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Another of this weekend's expected official visitors who ranks high on Vanderbilt's wish list is linebacker Ben Owens (6-2, 205, 4.55, Bearden, Ark.). After Arkansas recently pulled out of the running, Owens named the Commodores and Arkansas State this week as his two leaders, ahead of Memphis and Oklahoma State. He visited Arkansas State officially a week ago.

This will be the Arkansas native's second visit to the Nashville campus. He was present last fall for Vandy's dominating 31-13 victory over Mississippi State. The Commodores have already locked up commitments from linebackers Quavian Lewis (Troy, Ala.) and Brandon Bryant (Cincinnati, Ohio), but are still looking to add two more.

"I could have a decision as early as next week," Owens told Scout.com earlier this week. Can Vandy close the sale? Stay tuned.

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The Commodores are also in search of at least two running backs to replace Norval McKenzie and Kwane Doster. One running back prospect, Jared Hawkins (5-10, 180, Klein, Tex.) committed earlier this week. Two others expected to visit officially this weekend are Luke Landers (6-0, 190, Nashville-Christ Presbyterian) and Duran Coger (5-11, 180, North Tuscumbia-Deshler, Ala.).

Landers was one of the Midstate's leading rushers with 1,377 yards, but has not yet received an offer from the Commodores. Coger, who has received a Vanderbilt offer, starred at running back for Deshler but could also play receiver or defensive back. He told VandyMania.com in late December that the Commodores liked him as a receiver.

Two other running back prospects are scheduled to visit officially next weekend: Brandyn Young (Tucker, Ga.) and Clifford Harris (Marrero-Higgins, La.).

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Other expected official visitors this weekend included Antonio Jones (6-2, 200, Dallas-Lincoln, Tex.), a linebacker who earlier made a "soft" verbal commitment to Georgia Tech; linebacker Derrius Dowell (6-2, 215, Atlanta-Douglass, Ga.); and offensive lineman Ryan Custer (6-4, 290, Troy, Ohio).


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