Last Wednesday, the University of Tennessee completed its 2014 football signing class. The Vols added 34 total prospects to this year’s upcoming squad.
Referred to as “Team 118” by Coach Butch Jones, this year’s team definitely had some holes to fill, coming off a lackluster 5-7 season. Most of its needs were met with the incoming class.
College football recruiting services are monopolized by four main companies. ESPN, Rivals, 247sports, and Scout put together the most complete information, and are the most popular resources used by fans.
The Vols finished 4th nationally in Scout’s rankings, 5th nationally in both ESPN and Rivals, and 7th nationally by 247sports.
The sites used in recruiting also rate players individually, based on a star system of 1-5. While many coaches don’t agree with the star system, it gives fans an idea of how good a player’s potential is.
Here is a look at the most notable signees’ for Tennessee:
Jalen Hurd – A 6’ 3,” 230-pound running back from Hendersonville, Tennessee with superstar potential. Rated with five-stars by 247sports and Rivals, Hurd is considered by many to be the gem of this year’s class.
He is regarded as one of the best running backs in the nation, and has been signed with Tennessee since last March. Hurd is also already enrolled at Tennessee, which means he will participate in off-season training and spring practice.
Josh Malone – Most people who don’t consider Hurd to be the best signee in the class probably cite Malone as the reason. The 6’3,” 195-pound wide receiver from Gallatin, Tennessee is rated as a five-star prospect by Rivals.
Also an early enrollee, Malone will be able to compete for playing time immediately. His natural speed, frame, and pass-catching ability made him one of the most sought-after wide receivers in the country. He signed with the Vols in December.
Todd Kelly, Jr. – The son of a former Vol, Kelly makes up one of many “legacy” recruits in the class. He has the size and speed of elite safeties, and ball-hawking ability that makes him stand out from the others.
Kelly was one of the Vols’ first signees for 2014, and helped to recruit many of the other prospects. Also, he is from Knoxville, making him a definite hometown favorite in the fall.
Dillon Bates – Another legacy prospect, Bates brings tools that give him an opportunity to play early for Tennessee. Although he will not be on campus until the summer, his pass-covering ability at the linebacker position is a need for the Vols.
His speed was an emphasis in his recruitment, and it should pay dividends for the Vols in the coming years. Bates is from the talent-rich state of Florida.
The Berry Twins – Evan and Elliot Berry are the younger brothers of Vol legend Eric Berry, and the sons of Tennessee great James Berry.
Although there wasn’t much speculation as to where they would play their college ball, James encouraged the twins to explore their options. Without surprise, they chose Tennessee and delighted the fan base.
While these are some of the prospects that the Vols’ fan base and coaches most dearly wanted, they signed several others that were highly regarded. Here is a look at some of the other four-star rated prospects:
Derrell Scott – A late signee at the running back position with a change of pace to accompany Hurd. Scott chose the Vols over Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Charles Mosley – He is a 6’5,” 350-pound mountain of a man. In high school, Mosley played offensive guard and defensive tackle. He will likely play the latter for Tennessee.
Von Pearson – Another wide receiver with the potential to play early. Pearson had offers from Illinois and Utah, before choosing the Vols. He has the skill set to be a change of pace from Malone, similar to the differential between Hurd and Scott.
Daniel Helm – With a 6’4,” 225-pound frame, Helm is already the size of most college tight ends. As an early enrollee, look for him to bulk up before the fall as he competes for playing time.
Dontavius Blair – Similar to Mosley, Blair is massive. Listed at 6’8,” 305 pounds, he is the type of player that can bring immediate relief to a depleted offensive line.
D’Andre Payne – The cornerback from Washington D.C. is known for having a motor that never quits running. He can cover wide receivers all the way from the White House to the Lincoln Memorial.
Jakob Johnson – As an inside linebacker at Jean Ribault High School, Johnson shined above the rest and accumulated an impressive offer list. He is originally from Germany, and his first name is pronounced with a soft “J” (Yakob).
Dewayne Hendrix – Hendrix was a much needed prospect on the defensive line, as the Vols lost all their starters from last season. The massive, strong-side defensive end recorded over 60 tackles his season year.
Derek Barnett – Another defensive line prospect, Barnett had offers from LSU, Ohio State, and Florida State among others. He is a Brentwood, Tennessee native and brings a needed presence at defensive tackle.
Cortez McDowell – At 6’1,” 200 pounds, McDowell is the ideal size for a safety. Although he may not see immediate playing time, he will accompany Kelly in the back end of the defense for years to come.
Joe Henderson – Joe is another essential commitment playing at defensive end. He is 6’3,” 230 pounds and had an offer list that included Nebraska, Ole Miss, and Wisconsin.
Michael Sawyers – Originally committed to Vanderbilt, Sawyers flipped over to the Vols on signing day. As an unexpected addition, Sawyers completes a list of defensive linemen that Tennessee desperately needed.
Chris Weatherd – The JUCO (junior college) outside linebacker out of Texas is a real animal. He has raw, gifted strength that shows on film, and unusual pursuit speed for his position. It is likely that Weatherd will compete for immediate playing time.
Gavin Bryant – Bryant may be the underlying gem, or “sleeper” of the 2014 class. Butch Jones referred to him simply as “the best linebacker in Alabama.” His biggest strength is his hitting power.
While the above mentioned prospects are rated highest by recruiting services, this does not mean that Tennessee didn’t sign other talented players. Here is a look at the rest of the class, earning 3 stars or below:
Coleman Thomas, offensive line
Ethan Wolf, tight end
Dimarya Mixon, defensive line
Neiko Creamer, athlete
Ray Raulerson, offensive line
Emmanuel Moseley, cornerback
Owen Williams, defensive line
RaShaan Gaulden, safety
Treyvon Paulk, running back
Vic Wharton, athlete
Jashon Robertson, offensive line
Aaron Medley, kicker
Bryson Durden, defensive back
The Vols signed more prospects than any team in the country. Around half of the prospects were rated 4-stars or better, and most of the remaining were at least 3-stars.
However, most coaches make it clear that they do not recruit based on star values. They recruit players that fit their system, and fill the gap in team needs. No school filled their needs better than Tennessee on National Signing Day.
Collectively, this class was rated higher than any Tennessee class since 2007. Players were signed from all over the country, yet it still has a hometown feel. The Vols kept 9 out of the top 11 players in Tennessee, which is a true testament to Butch Jones locking down the borders.
The class also includes several players who have bloodlines back to the University of Tennessee. Known as “legacy” recruits, players like Bates, Kelly, Creamer, and the Berry twins know the true history and tradition that makes up Tennessee football.
Also, Tennessee has more early enrollees than any school. Fourteen of the prospects are already on campus, attending classes, and will get to participate in off-season training and spring practice.
Now that Butch Jones has his first full recruiting class, he can begin to envelop his system and teach his standards to these players from the very beginning of their college careers.
Jones has done plenty to make Tennessee fans proud in his tenure, but perhaps nothing more than landing this signing class.
As Jones stated at a recent recruiting celebration, “Our opponents know it’s only a matter of time,” which received a loud applause from those in attendance. With the #1 recruiting class in the SEC’s eastern division, this statement has merit.
To a fan base that has so longed for success, it couldn’t come at a better time. Tennessee will be back. It’s now only a matter of when.