Category Archives: Recruiting

Jocquez Bruce commits to join Tennessee’s 2015 class

South-Doyle running back Jocquez Bruce during a Class 5A playoff game in 2013. (Paul Efird/News Sentinel)

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeJocquez Bruce, an athlete at South Doyle High School, has verbally committed to Tennessee after a standout performance in a camp this weekend.

Bruce, listed by 247Sports at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, could play receiver, cornerback or even running back at college. Bruce told 247Sports that he worked out at all three spots during his recent visit to UT but was being recruited primarily as a slot receiver.

Bruce is the 13th commitment and second receiver in Tennessee’s 2015 signing class.

In the 247Sports Composite ratings, Bruce is the 28th-ranked overall prospect in Tennessee and the 74th-ranked athlete prospect in the country.

QB Quinten Dormady gives Vols pro-style passer in 2015 class

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeQuinten Dormady came to Knoxville over the weekend for what he thought be the first of many stops on a college tour through the South.

But when Tennessee made it clear that he not only had an offer, but it was an offer that coaches wanted — and needed — him to decide on soon, Dormady scaled back his decision to just two teams: Alabama and UT.

The decision gives the Vols a second quarterback in the 2015 class. (And Jauan Jennings has insisted that he is a quarterback, not an athlete or a safety).

Dormady’s arrival will also help replenish the depth at quarterback after Riley Ferguson‘s recent decision to transfer. Justin Worley will graduate after this season, leaving only Joshua Dobbs, Nathan Peterman and whoever UT signs in this class on the 2015 roster.

Given those numbers, and the questions about Jenning’s ultimate college position, could the Vols sneak a third quarterback into this class? It might be tough (or impossible) to snare another elite quarterback with two other potential competitors already committed. But maybe a late addition just before Signing Day? A late surprise (like Dobbs)? Or maybe even a wildcard from the junior college ranks?

There’s plenty of time left until February. Stay tuned.

Recruiting Kahlil McKenzie: Here’s something you don’t see every day

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The toughest part of the college football recruiting game is finding something new and different.

It’s why schools pay artists to create individualized drawings to mail to recruits, why teams compete to see who can stuff more letters in a recruits’ mailbox and why every visit — official or unofficial — is now a well-choreographed show.

It’s also why Vols coach Butch Jones appears to be engaged in some sort of online scavenger hunt with elite defensive tackle prospect Kahlil McKenzie. See for yourself:

Later…

Kahlil McKenzie posted this message with the photo above: “Found the first bucket!! @UTCoachJones is counting down the days till July 10th different location everyday!!”

July 10 is the day McKenzie says he will decide between Tennessee and Arizona. Most expect the consensus five-star prospect to pick the Vols because of his family ties to Knoxville. McKenzie’s father Reggie, the general manager of the Oakland Raiders, is a Knoxville native and Vol standout. So is his uncle, Reggie’s twin brother, Raleigh.

But Jones clearly isn’t taking McKenzie’s decision for granted. That means 36 more days of this, presumably. Let’s hope Jones and his staff have some more ideas under his hat.

With QB a priority, Vols in battle for 5-star Torrance Gibson

Torrance Gibson (photo by 247Sports, a KNS partner)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Riley Ferguson‘s departure has highlighted Tennessee’s need for another quarterback in the Class of 2015.

There are few bigger targets than dual-threat quarterback Torrance GibsonAuburn and Tennessee are leading the seven-team race for his signature. Helpfully, Gibson has been tweeting and blogging about the recruiting process.

247Sports recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan chatted about Gibson’s visit to Auburn in today’s installment of GVX Audio. Gibson could visit Tennessee as soon as this weekend, but Callahan said the race should continue for some time.

The Vols already have Jauan Jennings in the fold. He’s a four-star athlete from Murfreesboro who is being recruited by most schools as a quarterback. Many think he could also be an elite college safety.

Tennessee football adds DB Stephen Griffin to 2015 recruiting class

Stephen Griffin during a visit to Tennessee (photo by KNS partner GoVols247)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Charlotte defensive back Stephen Griffin, has verbally committed to Tennessee.

Griffin is listed at 6-foot-3 and 187 pounds on his 247Sports profile.

He’s listed as a safety or cornerback, although his apparent size — even as a 17-year-old — makes it seem more likely that he would end up at safety.

Griffin confirmed his commitment on his Twitter account.

Griffin also had recent offers from Michigan, Boston College and others. In addition to UT, he had recently visited Clemson, Duke and North Carolina.

He confirmed his UT commitment on his Twitter account.

Here’s a look at Tennessee’s 2015 commitment list, which now has nine prospects.

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AgBQnqCTaaxzdGhXUEV5ZGdPU0ZBSnJzdm04Y3Y4MGc&output=html&widget=true” width=”100%” height=”600″]

How many players will the Vols sign in 2015? As Butch Jones says, it’s in ‘flux’

KNOXVILLE, TennesseeButch Jones told an audience Wednesday at the Knoxville Tipoff Club that the Vols would probably sign 18-22 players in the 2015 class.

But, he quickly added, that number is in “flux” and would remain so for some time.

At first, Jones’ estimate sounded like an underestimation — perhaps a diplomatic one given the Vols just brought in an estimated 32 players in 2014.

But upon further review, it seems likely that UT could sign a class with fewer than 25 prospects in 2015.

The first factor is how many players, if any, the Vols will push forward to 2015 from this class. That number could be zero, one or two, depending on who’s counting.

But let’s assume that doesn’t happen.

Scholarship status cannot always be determined with certainty, but my list has 14 current seniors out of 85 scholarship players.

So to carve out 25 slots for the 2015 class, the roster would have to undergo considerable attrition, with 11 of the 71 non-seniors (roughly 15 percent) moving on with their careers.

There will be attrition, of course, but counting on that much is probably a bit ambitious — at least for now. So Jones’ guess of 18-22 players is probably as good as any. The Vols already have seven verbal commitments in the 2015 class, which means they’re off to an early start.

Ranking the recruiters: Tommy Thigpen has been consistently near the top

Tommy Thigpen coaches Malik Foreman in practice last August (photo by Evan Woodbery)

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen, who was named Rivals.com recruiter of the year earlier this month, is one of several assistants who scored well in 247Sports’ recruiter rankings.

247Sports added the new ranking to its arsenal about a year ago, and has since used its database to rank assistant coaches from past years as well. (The numbers are not as complete as 2014, but are still useful to review).

The rankings show that Thigpen’s prowess as a recruiter is nothing new.

The change in coaching staffs at Tennessee makes it difficult to get an exact picture in 2013.

But in 2011 and 2012, Thigpen was No. 5 and No. 18 nationally, respectively, credited with signing a dozen recruits who helped build Auburn’s SEC championship team in 2013.

If recruiting rankings were once controversial, 247Sports opened up a whole new realm by ranking the recruiters. Initially, I thought coaches would freak out. Coaches are already a competitive breed, and I thought we’d see internal fights about who gets credit for signing each recruit. Maybe that stuff occurs behind the scenes, but I think most coaching staffs have long since made their peace with the recruiting industry. And 247Sports (full disclaimer: the company is a News Sentinel partner with GoVols247) has done a nice job pushing the franchise into new territory.

So let’s take a look at the 2014 rankings. Thigpen, No. 10 overall, was listed as the primary or secondary recruiter on an incredible 17 prospects in this cycle. (Second place was Cincinnati’s Robert Prunty with 14).

Other Vols assistants ranked this year:

Despite a midseason knee injury, running backs coach Robert Gillespie was a prolific recruiter. (photo by Evan Woodbery)

No. 28: Running backs coach Robert Gillespie

No. 38: Tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Mark Elder

No. 60: Defensive line coach and assistant head coach Steve Stripling

No. 107: Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez

No. 150: Receivers coach Zach Azzanni

Nationally, 247Sports said the top recruiter was Georgia’s Bryan McClendon. Former Vol quarterback and current USC assistant Tee Martin was No. 2.

But small sample sizes or a singe elite player can skew the one-year rankings. In 2013, there was a largely new crop of names in the top 10. (McClendon was No. 122; Martin was No. 92). Florida State’s Jeremy Pruitt, now defensive coordinator at Georgia, was No. 1.

The fluctuation shows that plenty of factors lead to a good recruiting ranking. It could depend on the number of players a team plans to sign at a certain position or whether it was a particularly strong year for a certain geographical area.

But Thigpen’s strength seems to transcend those fluctuations. And it’s worth noting that he was a closer of sorts for the Vols’ staff. Butch Jones put him on recruits that weren’t necessarily at his position or his geographic area.

Thigpen came to Tennessee after Auburn dismissed its staff in the wake of a dismal 2012 season. His link to Butch Jones’ Midwestern crew was Martinez, who was also on that Auburn staff in 2012.

Auburn’s coaching staff was stocked with top recruiters — including Trooper Taylor, running backs coach Curtis Luper, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and others. Coaches always pretend not to care about recruiting rankings, but it was either Taylor or Luper who once said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “If they’re keeping score, I want to win.”

That was refreshing honesty. And there’s no doubt that Thigpen has won a lot.

Vols signee Jalen Hurd ‘soft?’ So says a voice from Southern Cal’s war room

This video was still active as of Monday afternoon.

This video was still active as of Monday afternoon.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — On National Signing Day, recruiting war rooms are often open to the media.

Usually that only means manufactured celebrations for ESPN. Sometimes, however, the microphone can capture frank comments from staff members.

That’s what appears to have happened in the Southern California war room. The Trojans used their official Instagram feed to publicize each new player on National Signing Day.

In the video in question*, a staff member slaps the name of a new signee on the board as an ESPN broadcast buzzes in the background. The network is discussing Tennessee’s class, including Jalen Hurd, and later Jakob Johnson.

An off-camera voice at USC says, “Jalen Hurd is so soft and terrible. I don’t know why he (unintelligible).”

The Instagram video was removed on Monday afternoon and USC issued an apology on its Twitter account.

The identity of the voice is unknown, although most fans on Twitter seem to think it’s a certain Trojans’ assistant coach who once played at UT.

The Vols and Trojans aren’t likely to meet anytime soon. But Hurd, an elite running back prospect  from Hendersonville, Tenn., won’t have to look far for motivation in 2014.

In SEC recruiting game, focus of most teams starts in own backyard

A national view of SEC recruiting midpoints. See the maps below for zoomed-in versions.

A national view of SEC recruiting midpoints. See the maps below for zoomed-in versions.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Most SEC schools keep their focus close to home when signing recruits. That’s why the number of top prospects nearby is such an accurate predictor of a team’s success.

Consider this map a sneak peek of a story I’m working on for later in the month. I charted the high school of each recruit signed by an SEC school to produce the “geographic midpoint” for each team and the league as a whole.

(Yes, you know my obsession with geographic midpoints.)

The results weren’t that startling.

Collectively, the midpoint of every SEC prospect signed in 2014 was near Fayette, Ala., only about 45 miles south of the geographic midpoint of all 14 SEC campuses in Haleyville, Ala.

Only three teams travel a great distance from their home base, and I bet you could have guessed them before I charted this map: Missouri, Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt added a handful of California prospects, which pushed its midpoint west.

Vanderbilt added a handful of California prospects, which pushed its midpoint west.

Vanderbilt was much more pronounced because new coach Derek Mason added some California recruits and lost some in-state signees.

Although the Vols continue to recruit nationally, the midpoint of the class hasn't been this close to Knoxville in years.

Although the Vols continue to recruit nationally, the midpoint of the class hasn’t been this close to Knoxville in years.

What about the Vols? As we’ve written before, Tennessee has moved north under coach Butch Jones, but the new midpoint is in line with the SEC average. (That little pink line on the map points to the “expected midpoint” for each team based on the SEC average).

What schools are outliers, compared to the rest of the league?

Obviously Arkansas, Missouri and Vandy have to recruit nationally out of necessity. Both Arkansas and Missouri recruit aggressively in south Florida, which pushes their midpoint south and east.

Texas A&M and LSU, generally, stick to their own fertile territories without spending too much time fighting others in Atlanta or Florida. That’s reflected in their midpoints.

Alabama recruits nationally despite its talent-rich state, and prospects from Iowa, Colorado and Minnesota helped push the Tide’s midpoint north this year.

The green map marker circled in white is Fayette, Ala., the geographic midpoint of every SEC recruit signed in 2014. That's only 45 miles southwest of Haleyville, Ala., (the green circle), which is the geographic midpoint of all 14 SEC campuses.

The green map marker circled in white is Fayette, Ala., the geographic midpoint of every SEC recruit signed in 2014. That’s only 45 miles southwest of Haleyville, Ala., (the green circle), which is the geographic midpoint of all 14 SEC campuses.

Both Ole Miss and Mississippi State have nearby midpoints. The Bulldogs’ midpoint is in Macon, Miss., which is just 38 miles from Starkville.

I thought this was interesting: Florida and Georgia have very similar recruiting midpoints. The Gators did have plenty of south Florida recruits, but their 2014 class had much more of a national flavor than you might expect. Recruits from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Wyoming pushed the midpoint north and west.

Georgia, meanwhile, had a smaller class (after signing more than 30 last year) and had a strong south Florida presence. (You’ll recall that Tennessee didn’t sign a south Florida prospect for the first time in five years).

What does all this mean?

* Even for a conference in the southeast corner of the United States, most teams still push even further south.

* Texas A&M and Missouri have expanded the geographic boundaries of the conference, but the Aggies rule Texas and don’t have to venture far from there.

* Next to Texas A&M, LSU has the strongest commitment to owning its home base.

* Even teams with strong local bases have a balanced national recruiting strategy.

* If you cover recruiting in the southeast, you should buy a house in Fayette, Ala.

Any other stuff I missed? Let me know.

Ranking SEC teams in recruiting over last 4 years: Vols fare better than you might expect

[gdoc link=”https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AgBQnqCTaaxzdE9EanlXQk1fU1N4QVVRNHVPaWctaWc&single=true&gid=0&output=html&widget=true” width=”100%” height=”400″]

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Now that National Signing Day is in the books, let’s take a step back and look at recruiting in the SEC over the last four years.

These are the players — if they’re still around — who will have the greatest impact on a team’s success in 2014.

The numbers don’t lie: Alabama has dominated the recruiting game just as it has on the field.

That’s not a surprise. But Tennessee’s ranking relative to the league average might be better than many expected.

We used the 247Sports Composite rankings in order to get a broad perspective from all the major recruiting services. We also wanted to go beyond a simple ranking to see the relative strength of each class as it compared to the rest of the league.

A few takeaways:

1. Tennessee’s recruiting ratings are above the league average over the last four years both collectively and individually. The Vols have been above the league average in three of the last four years.

2. On the negative side, the Vols suffered serious attrition in the 2012 class. Some of it was natural (Cordarrelle Patterson) but there were also plenty of washouts. Also, some of the higher rated players from 2011 and 2012 simply haven’t lived up to expectations.

3. Florida, despite last year’s debacle, still has plenty of talent. If they can fix a few issues from 2013, they could be right back in the title race.

4. Auburn can still lean on several solid classes and has every reason to expect to be in the mix for the SEC championship again.

5. Texas A&M has put together three consecutive solid classes that should help mitigate the departure of Johnny Manziel.

6. The bottom of the conference is largely what you would expect. Despite recent improvements in recruiting from Kentucky and Vanderbilt, relative to the rest of the league, their ratings are still low.

7. Missouri’s recruiting may not be impressive on paper, but it’s worth remember that the Tigers won the SEC East in 2013 using classes that were ranked near the bottom of the league.

Mizzou’s case, of course, is why factors like retention and development and coaching still matter.

But if we were to judge the 2014 season solely by its inputs, here’s what the standings would look like. Just for fun, we’ll use the four-year relative score (with 100 being average) and give 10 points to the home team in each game.

SEC East

1. Florida, 7-1

2. Georgia, 7-1

3. South Carolina, 5-3

4. Tennessee, 3-5

5. Missouri, 2-6

6. Kentucky, 2-6

7. Vanderbilt, 0-8

SEC West

1. Alabama, 8-0

2. Auburn, 6-2

3. LSU, 5-3

4. Texas A&M, 4-4

5. Ole Miss, 3-5

6. Mississippi State, 2-6

7. Arkansas, 2-6

It would be hard to imagine Missouri and Vanderbilt plummeting so quickly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Florida make a dramatic rebound.

Before you prepare your hate mail, remember this is just a “fun” excercise that does not necessarily reflect my actual opinion, nor does it have any effect on the real world.