Now that Fulmer is officially on his way out, Tennessee must turn a very wary eye toward the recruiting class for 2009 that has been building up. The recruiting class had been going very well for Tennessee, with some people projecting a class as high as 3-5 when the dust settled. (I was guessing top 10ish, but not quite that high.) Most importantly, the class seemed to include a number of quality offensive and defensive line prospects - positions on the team that have been a concern for recruiting for the last two years. For those of you who have Scout, GVX, Rivals, ESPN, etc. on a feed reader, you know how big of a deal the recruiting class has become. (I swear, if GVX carpet-bombs my feed with those lousy overdue Twitter notices about the same recruits that everybody talked about the day before one more time, I'm going to scream. Do you have any idea how much of a pain it is to hit the "Mark All As Read" button?)
The problem is, UT currently has nobody to defend their commits. The other programs are certainly calling UT's commits up and trying to convince them to peel away from the Big Orange, but who's going to call on UT's behalf and assure the commits that things will work out?
As I see it, there's only one answer: the current players.
If you watched Ramon Foster and Eric Berry at the press conference, you saw the single most attractive aspect of the Vols to a recruit - the sense of family and belonging that each player has. At Tennessee, the football players aren't just players on a team - they're a family. They don't just care about the on-field performance, they care about each other. When one Vol hurts, they all hurt; when one Vol succeeds, they all celebrate.
Even during the lo-AAAAARGHHHH!!! GVX!!! LEARN TO HANDLE FEEDS PROPERLY!!! Um...excuse me.
Even during the low points of this season, we never saw the finger-pointing, the blame-assigning, and the malcontent that is so common in a team in freefall. Rather, the players were always talking about working harder, never quitting, helping each other, relying on each other, and fixing things together. Even Crompton never once complained when benched for Stephens - a fact that gets little play by anybody (including me) in light of his performance.
At times, the team has seemed aloof and standoffish. When we were demanding explanations, they circled their wagons and defended each other. Sometimes, their response was a little acidic, but that was only because they saw the Vols fans as antagonistic toward their own brothers. Internally - during team meetings, practices, etc. - they undoubtedly had their arguments and heated moments. Externally, it never showed. The problems in the family stayed in the family. And nobody was to criticize from the outside.
If the players can continue to illustrate their closeness, and if they can get that point across to our recruits, the recruits can be assured that UT is a place where they will be respected and included as one of a rare brotherhood. To many young men, that is an incredibly important bond to have in life. They will see the team as a place to establish the rest of their lives, not simply a place to play ball for 4 years.
It's not much in the face of other colleges' recruiters, who will undoubtedly say anything they can to pull away UT's recruits. (Can you blame them?) But it's all we have at the moment.