Commentary

Vols get back on track with big July

After slow start, 10 commits including two four-star prospects prop up UT

Updated: August 3, 2011, 12:42 PM ET
By Dave Hooker | ESPN Recruiting

Tennessee fans weren't rioting in the streets as they did when Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California, but some probably were considering it.

Now the fretting about recruiting seems like ages ago, even though it has just been a month since the Vols had two commitments.

Head coach Derek Dooley said last month that the pessimism was more frustrating than the actual state of the 2012 class, which he said was in good shape. Skeptics still shook their head. Two commitments? That was hard to stomach.

[+] EnlargeDrae Bowles
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comIn-state four-star WR prospect Drae Bowles was one of 10 players to commit to UT in July.
Since, the Vols have picked up 10 commitments in a frantic July and are knocking on the door of ESPN's Top 25 ranking.

"We try not to make decisions that go outside of what we believe as far as our positional criteria and as far as how we recruit and who we recruit," Dooley said. "I try very hard not to let public opinion dictate who we want in our program.

"Certainly we want our fans to feel like we're doing a good job and we're getting the kind of classes they expect, but inevitably that's not always the case because what we think is good and what they read is good, there might be some differences."

Dooley gets an occasional report from his sports information department on the state of Tennessee's fan base so he was at least aware of the concern. But ultimately Dooley saw a much different light at the end of the tunnel than the faithful on message boards and talk shows. The ultra-productive July was hardly a surprise. Dooley expected it.

"It happened the same way last year," he said. "It's a little different in the situation we're in because we've been here 18 months. It really takes two or three years to get fully integrated. Right now, we're on the '13 class way ahead of where we were a year ago [on the '12 class]. A year ago at this time we were putting so much energy into catching up on this [year's] class, which means you're behind again when the clock turns. Now I'd say it took us 18 months to catch up on the cycle that everybody else operates."

Recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph said the Vols are "light years" ahead of where they were a year ago.

"We feel like we're at a point where we're comfortable," Joseph said. "Next year at this time we'll be fully caught up in the recruiting process."

Big summers could become the norm with Dooley at the helm. First, the Vols hold their annual camp in July. Second, Tennessee doesn't have as many players nearby as most of its SEC competition.

"We're still Tennessee and we don't have 35 guys in our state that are coming here all the time that we're developing relationships with," Dooley said. "So we have to go out of state. The data is you have a better chance to get guys the more they come to your campus. There are a lot of schools around these guys that they go to before they come to our place so it just takes a little longer."

The recruiting surge in Knoxville probably will slow in the coming months. While the Vols focus on preseason camp in August, they'll target a few prospects who have indicated they might make an announcement soon. Otherwise, recruiting will be put on the backburner as the Vols prepare for the 2011 season.

That also will be the philosophy during the season. Dooley isn't a fan of bringing official visitors in for game weekends. He'd prefer to host prospects officially in December and January when he can spend more time with them.

"We want them to come unofficially because we want to spend a lot of time with them when they come on their official visit," he said. "... Even though they get this great feel for the game, they don't get the sense of what the program is about."

Dooley said that philosophy was borne when he was the recruiting coordinator at LSU under Nick Saban.

"We put a lot of energy into trying to win the game," he said. "I tell all these recruits that's what they would want from me when they're on our team. If I'm a player on our team I don't want our coaches totally distracted because of recruiting on game day and the night before. The bigger reason is we just can't spend the same amount of time that we could if there's not a game. Even though we have great stuff at Tennessee, I hope every recruit that leaves here says 'It's their people that really impressed me the most.' "

Even though most Tennessee fans must be relieved by the productivity in July, there still are concerns. Tennessee hasn't secured a top-flight high school defensive tackle, and many were left scratching their heads by the Vols' decision to offer kicker George Bullock a scholarship. Sure, the Knoxville (Tenn.) West standout is a solid prospect, but the Vols already have two underclassmen on scholarship that can handle placekicking duties.

As per NCAA rules, Dooley couldn't address Bullock specifically, but he did offer his theory on recruiting kickers.

"Ideally, you'd like to have one on scholarship then you have a good walk-on program that has one who earns his stripes," he said. "When that [scholarship] guy goes off, then you put [the walk-on] on [scholarship] and you already know what he's about. But the reality of today is more people are scholarshiping kickers.

"It's not uncommon right now that you try to get a guy to walk on and some other school offers him books at a I-AA program, he's going to go there so now it's forcing your hand a little bit to bring a guy in on scholarship if you feel good about him. It's a risky deal."

While offering Bullock a scholarship caught some by surprise, it's overshadowed by the other nine commitments Tennessee picked up, including two four-star prospects. The recent surge appears to be a sign that Tennessee's coaches now know what Dooley is looking for when he says he wants the "total package" prospect that has talent and character.

For the first time since 2008, Tennessee has a coaching staff entering its second season in Knoxville. For a program that once prided itself on consistency, the return of such is a welcome change.

"Obviously having a lot of continuity on your staff you get to know the personality of the [head] coach," Joseph said. "I think it helps when you get to know the traits he's looking for."

Preseason standings

With colleges and high schools opening preseason camp this week, recruiting will slow down a bit in the coming weeks. Also, it's near the halfway point of the recruiting calendar, which makes now a good time to check where teams stand before they start hosting official visitors.

In the ACC, Florida State has the most ESPN150 players with nine. Clemson and Miami have five apiece. Virginia is the only other ACC school with an ESPN150 prospect; the Cavaliers have one.

In the SEC, Florida leads with six ESPN150 prospects. Alabama has five. Auburn has four. LSU has three. South Carolina and Georgia have two apiece. Ole Miss and Tennessee each have one.

As for overall commitments, Virginia Tech (23) and Miami (22) pace the ACC. Virginia has 19. Maryland and Florida State have 15. Clemson and Duke have 14. Boston College has 13. NC State has 12. North Carolina has 11. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have 10 commitments apiece.

LSU and South Carolina lead the SEC with 18 commitments. Kentucky and Mississippi State have 16.Vanderbilt and Florida have 15. Alabama has 14. Auburn has 13. Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee have 12. Ole Miss has eight.

Big Friday

Five-star offensive tackle D.J. Humphries from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek is scheduled to make his college announcement at 7 p.m. Friday. Whichever school lands Humphries also will get a head start in hopes of landing his teammate rising junior cornerback Brian Walker.

Speculation has centered on Florida securing Humphries. He also is considering Auburn, Clemson, South Carolina and Tennessee. Humphries is the top offensive tackle in the nation.

Receiver Chris Black will be making his college announcement on Friday as well. The Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast receiver is considering Florida State and Alabama. The announcement will be televised on ESPNU at 4:30 p.m.

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for over a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.

Dave Hooker

Reporter, RecruitingNation