Can Butch Jones Salvage UT’s Recruiting Class?
By Matthew Osborne
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Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has worked tirelessly to help the Volunteers finish strong in recruiting.
It is truly staggering to think just how far the Tennessee program has fallen over the past half-decade.
Despite having the eighth-most wins in FBS history (799), the Volunteers have posted losing records in four of their past five seasons, including three consecutive seven-loss campaigns.
As Georgia, Florida and South Carolina have been entrenched in compelling battles for SEC East supremacy in recent seasons, the Volunteers have struggled to simply remain relevant in their own division.
As a result, Tennessee has lost much of its name recognition which used to resonate so powerfully with many of the nation’s elite recruits. No longer is Rocky Top considered to be a so-called “destination school”, which has made it difficult for the Volunteers to keep pace with the multitude of talented teams in the SEC.
Failure on the recruiting trail is one of the prominent reasons that Derek Dooley was fired this past fall, paving the way for former Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones to take over in Knoxville.
Facing the difficult task of resurrecting a currently fledgling program with a fan base as passionate as any in the country and with a storied history rivaled by few other programs in the country, Jones’ first task is to replenish Tennessee with talented high school prospects.
That will prove to be no easy task, however, as the Vols got off to an extremely slow start in their 2013 recruiting class under the direction of Dooley.
Unfortunately, there is no rest for the weary on the recruiting trail.
Immediately upon taking the job in Knoxville, Jones made it clear that his intention was to take the Volunteers back to the top by outworking the competition.
And while words are easily spoken, Jones is doing his best to set the pace for his new program.
Over the past month and a half, Jones has been working the recruiting trail as hard as any other coach in the country in an attempt to finish the 2013 class with a bang, generating some much needed positive momentum for the Volunteers heading into the offseason.
Jones’ tremendous recruiting efforts finally paid some significant dividends on Wednesday afternoon, as four-star wide receiver Marquez North, long thought to be a North Carolina lean, gave his verbal pledge to the Volunteers. North immediately became one of the two most highly-ranked prospects in Tennessee’s 2013 class when he gave his verbal commitment, joining athlete Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Landing North was a huge accomplishment for Jones and his staff considering the short period of time with which they had to work.
Now, Jones is attempting to parlay North’s commitment into a huge finish to this year’s class.
Judging by the prospects who remain interested in the Volunteers, he just may be able to salvage what has thus far been an extremely sub-par recruiting class.
Five-star safety Vonn Bell visited Knoxville this past weekend and has the Volunteers in his final three along with Alabama and Ohio State.
Perhaps more impressively, Jones has shown no hesitation in going after players who have committed to other schools. Some people might consider his decision to send the “full court press” at some of the nation’s top prospects a bit classless, but Jones is not breaking any NCAA rules with his current tactics. After all, recruiting is a results-based game.
Since taking over less than two months ago, Jones has helped Tennessee re-enter the picture with previously verbally committed prospects Carl Lawson (four-star DE), E.J. Levenberry (four-star LB), Tyler Boyd (four-star S), Trey Johnson (four-star LB), Christian Morris (four-star OL) and Davin Bellamy (four-star DE).
There are also a number of other prospects remaining on the board who have committable offers on the table.
It obviously has yet to be seen just how much magic Jones will be able to work in the days leading up to National Signing Day, but it is clear that he is on a path to elevate Tennessee’s recruiting efforts.
That alone should provide Volunteer fans with some much needed comfort.