Getting to know Tennessee's class of 2007: No. 3, WR Brent Vinson

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Introducing No. 3 in Tennessee’s class of 2007: wide receiver Brent Vinson

butterfly effect: noun -- the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio de Janeiro might change the weather in Chicago 

A category 5 friendship

Prior to 2004, Hampton, Virginia native Brent Vinson was solely a hard court guy. He had started for his Phoebus High School basketball team as both a freshman and a sophomore. One of his best friends was none other than Tennessee standout Duke Crews, who was, at one point anyway, also a teammate.

In September, 2003, Hurricane Isabel was bearing down on Hampton, and Vinson had to choose one of two evacuation options: go to his Aunt’s house with his mother, or go to New Jersey with Crews. As Fate or Providence would have it, he went with Crews to New Jersey, and the two weeks they spent together promoted their friendship into a bond for life.

I got to go see his background and learn more about him. That made our friendship a lot stronger. By me going there and spending time with him in his hometown we've become real good friends since then.

Tragedy triggers change

Still, it was all basketball for Vinson at that time, and he probably would never have shed his sneaks for cleats had it not been for another good friend, Ronnie Hendrix, who had died in a car accident on his way to play football for Kent State. Hendrix had always pestered Vinson to try football, and after Hendrix’s death, Vinson made good on his friend’s wish and joined the team for the first time as a junior in high school.

In his first year, Vinson caught 29 passes for 475 yards and eight touchdowns, a decent, but less than earth shattering performance. That is, until he attended a Nike Camp during which he showcased a 40-inch vertical, a 4.40 forty time, and 13 reps of 185 pounds on the bench press. In that one day, he increased his rating from an embarrassing one star to a solid three. He was well on his way to making Ronnie proud.

The recruiting then began in earnest, of course. By August, 2005, Vinson had offers from Virginia Tech, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Syracuse, Michigan State, Ole Miss, and Marshall. Virginia Tech seemed to be the early leader, as Vinson’s cousin, Jimmy Williams, was playing there, and Vinson was able to spend a lot of time on their campus. In fact, when Vinson visited North Carolina State, there was "kind of a mix up with the coaching staff" because they thought that Vinson, who was cheering for Williams when he made a good play during the Wolfpack’s game against the Hokies, was cheering for the opposing school while on an official visit.

The ever-reaching influence of Bruce Pearl

Tennessee wasn’t even a gleam in Vinson’s eye until October 28, 2005 when he took an official visit to Knoxville on the same day that Crews was in town for an unofficial visit. Crews, lured by coach Bruce Pearl’s vision of building a national title contender at Tennessee, had committed on October 17, and he’d been hyping the school to Vinson every chance he’d get.

Meanwhile, Vinson was reaping the rewards of a stellar second season on the gridiron. As a wide receiver, defensive back, and return specialist, he’d accounted for 1,200 yards receiving, 400 rushing yards, five interceptions, and 15 total touchdowns, including two TDs on interceptions and one (or four) TDs on punt returns. He’d been named first team all-district and all-state as a wide receiver, defensive back, and return specialist, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution had put him on its Super South 100 list.

So by January 12, 2006, Vinson had narrowed it down to Tennessee or Virginia Tech, and on January 19, Vinson committed to Tennessee. He signed his letter of intent on February 1, 2006, spurning offers from Florida, Georgia, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and South Carolina, among others.

Success disguised as failure

Vinson was, however, ruled academically ineligible because he did not receive a qualifying standardized test score, and he enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy the next fall.

Vinson failing to qualify in 2006 appeared to be a blow to Tennessee, but it turned out to be downright providential. He entered Hargrave as a boy and a good football player and emerged both a man and a very highly touted five-star treasure. Vinson’s days at Hargrave started promptly at 5:30 a.m. Except for a five-minute break during the day period, he was expected not only to be in every class every day, but to participate in those classes. The rigorous schedule infused a work ethic in him that has simply become part of who he is now. It taught him that "there’s a time to do certain things and there’s a time not to." It taught him "not to be a person around negative things" and to "leave other people behind . . . and not follow the crowd." It taught him that he failed to get into college the first time not because he wasn’t smart enough, but because he simply lacked focus and good study habits, and it gave him those things. It inspired him to maturity and to get rid of his braids and shave his head. Rather than be disappointed that he had to postpone his dreams of playing at Tennessee for a year, Vinson is grateful for the detour. "I probably would’ve messed myself up if I would’ve gone straight to Tennessee," he says. "So I’m thankful for going here."

Not only did Hargrave make him a man, it transformed him from a three-star prospect to a five-star VHT. When Hargrave traveled to Mountaineer Field to take on the West Virginia junior varsity team, Vinson put up almost 300 yards of total offense, including two touchdown catches, two kickoff returns of 80 and 70 yards, and a 70-yard return on a blocked field goal.

As Vinson was reevaluating life, the recruiting services were reevaluating Vinson. In October, Scout made him a five star prospect. Rivals, who’d had Vinson as a four-star guy out of high school, also increased his rating to five stars, and gave him that elusive Franchise Player badge. Rivals considered Vinson the second-best overall prep school prospect in the class, and Scout named him the No. 5 overall wide receiver.

The next February, the new and improved Vinson re-signed with the Vols despite a late push from West Virginia, and he arrived on campus for the first summer session on June 2, 2007.

Not merely fast

This guy is the real thing, folks. If you have access to Rivals, you really need to go check out the videos. You’ll need to look for Vinson’s 2006, not his 2007, profile.

Anyway, the guy doesn’t just look faster than everybody else, he looks a lot faster. Vinson’s official 40 time is 4.40, but one article mentions that he once ran back to back times of 4.26 and 4.27. Even more impressive than those numbers, however, is Vinson’s take on them: "A lot of guys take pride in those low times," Vinson says, "but I want to prove myself on the field."

Not only does he have world-class speed, he’s versatile and athletic, as well. He can catch the ball and gain yards after the catch. And most importantly, he’s got his priorities straight.

Funny how things happen. Had it not been for Hurricane Isabel chasing Brent Vinson to Duke Crews’ hometown for two weeks, had it not been for the tragic death of a childhood friend who had always wanted Vinson to play football, had it not been for Mike Hamilton’s hiring of Bruce Pearl and Bruce Pearl’s luring of Duke Crews to Tennessee, and had a non-qualifying test score not re-routed Vinson to Hargrave and maturity, Vinson may very well be someplace far away from Knoxville this year, both geographically and metaphorically. As it stands, Vinson has followed Fate to Rocky Top. Just what great things does it have in store for him?

Brent Vinson, a heart felt welcome to Tennessee.

Rocky Top Talk Mnemonic

Butterfly flaps wings
Vinson becomes both a man
And a VHT
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