- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- You don’t have to spend too much time around Tennessee coach Derek Dooley to figure out that he’s counting on the Vols’ 2011 signing class to pay big dividends.
And not just down the road, either.
Particularly on defense, Tennessee fans should probably warm up to the idea that they’re going to see a lot of new faces on the field next season.
Dooley has put together back-to-back top 15 recruiting classes nationally. He’s not consumed with the ranking, but is consumed with recruiting.
You have to be in the SEC.
“You never want a bad recruiting class, and two bad ones in a row can annihilate you in this league, so I’m on edge every year when it comes to recruiting,” Dooley said. “But I do feel like these are heavy classes, meaning there’s going to be 50 guys coming out of these two classes.
“I feel like in this last class that our size, speed and athleticism was enhanced at every position. I really believe that. Now, whether we’ll be better because of it, time will tell. But that’s a starting point.”
Dooley’s a stickler for getting guys on campus as many times as possible before the Vols offer. That can be tricky in this day and age when recruits are committing earlier than ever, but he’s been outspoken about the importance of bringing in high character guys and not getting caught up in recruiting hype.
“The key word is diligent,” Dooley said. “Are you watching a few plays and seeing a guy ranked as a five star and then going and getting him, or how thorough is your evaluation process?”
Dooley said there are five main categories that he weighs:
Size and speed for that player’s position.
Can the player do the things athletically that’s required for that position?
Critical factors such as toughness, effort and passion.
The player’s character.
The player’s academic history.
“You jumble all five of those things, knowing there are going to be some deficiencies in some areas,” Dooley explained. “You’re not going to sign a bunch of perfect guys, and then you have to make a decision.
“The one thing I try to do is have good balance throughout the class. Everybody who commits affects who you’re going to take in the next class. So at the end of the day, you don’t have a lot of risk. I look at it less from how many great players we’re signing, because you really never know if they’re going to be great. Instead, I look at it as, ‘What is our risk with each player?’ And I think with this last class, it was not a high-risk class. All of the data suggests they’re going to be able to compete in this league, that they have the right makeup to succeed academically and that they’re going to represent this place in the right way.
“Now, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to make some mistakes. You always do. It’s like any investment. Any time you invest your money, you either try to make a big jackpot or don’t put it into something too risky.”
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