If you follow recruiting very closely, you know there are occasionally package deals finagled to secure top-notch prospects.
Tennessee fans are familiar with this practice after the Vols extended an offer to Calhoun (Ga.) quarterback Nash Nance a couple of seasons ago in efforts to help land five-star wide receiver and future All-SEC pass catcher Da'Rick Rogers. Rogers actually lived with the Nances, and Nash was one of his best friends. The move was questioned by many Vols fans, and, sure enough, Nance has since transferred to Harvard. But Rogers -- despite his off-the-field issues -- has been every bit the talent worth the gamble.
This season, UT is banking on several package deals -- but it isn't quite the same. Already with a pair of teammates on board with Christian Academy of Knoxville's offensive lineman Brett Kendrick and wide receiver Josh Smith, Derek Dooley has extended several other offers to players across the country who share a high school or junior college. Several more may be coming, and the Vols are right in the mix to land several of these guys.
Over the course of the next few paragraphs, we'll examine the offers already out there and several more possibilities that could have Tennessee reaping the benefits of double dipping across the nation.
- Let's start out with the birds already in hand. Though Kendrick and Smith had few offers and hadn't worked out for any other teams, Dooley was not reluctant to offer either after seeing them perform in person. Kendrick was first as the 6-foot-6, 290-pound tackle prospect participated in the one-day lineman camp a couple weeks back. Coaches were concerned that he played for a wide-open passing team in high school and couldn't get mean enough to run block. After seeing him work out and his athleticism in person, those fears were alleviated. He was offered and committed on the spot.
A few days later, CAK quarterback Charlie High and three of his receivers made the short trip to Knoxville to work out for Dooley and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. Though much of the talk leading up to the publicized workout centered around the question of whether or not High -- who is a bit undersized for the SEC measuring in a shade under 6 feet -- would be offered by the Vols, it was Smith who stole the show. He ran a pair of electronically-timed 4.51 40-yard dashes and caught everything thrown his way, earning an offer from the Vols. He committed the next morning. Now, UT fans and locals wait to see if High gets that elusive offer. That will likely come after the camp circuit, if at all.
- Next up, the Vols leveraged themselves quite nicely for the services of several top-shelf junior college prospects with the hiring of Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College defensive coordinator Brandon Staley to be their new defensive assistant under Sal Sunseri. Staley -- who didn't hurt matters last year in the recruitment of Hutchinson five-star wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson -- is working with outside linebackers, and UT has already secured one of his products at Hutch in speedy defensive end/outside linebacker De'Vondre Campbell. Campbell is another player off the radar a bit because of a redshirt last season, but he is a guy UT sees as a pass-rushing specialist in the mold of former Vols commitment and West Virginia standout Bruce Irvin, who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft this year. If Campbell can be half that good, he'll be a steal.
But Campbell isn't the only Blue Dragon with whom the Vols have positioned themselves well. A pair of monster defensive tackles with big-time offer sheets reside in Kansas, and UT is sitting pretty with them both right now. Toby Johnson has actually mentioned the Vols as his leader before over teams such as Southern Cal, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Nebraska. the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder is perhaps the Vols' top target at the position. But according to an article this week by 247's Ryan Callahan, Johnson's teammate and buddy Ben Bradley -- who has offers from Arizona, Arkansas, Baylor, Boise State, Georgia and UT, among others -- is also high on the Vols and intends on checking out Tennessee with Johnson. The 6-3, 310-pounder is also a former high school teammate of Vols wide receiver commitment Jason Croom at Norcross (Ga.) HS. If UT can secure those two guys in the middle, it will be a huge junior college coup.
But Staley hasn't only helped with Patterson, Campbell, Johnson and Bradley, he also coached Arizona Western College safety/cornerback Khambrel Garland at Hutch last year. Garland is visiting UT this week and is said to favor the Vols after receiving an offer from them recently. He also has been offered by Baylor, Arkansas, Indiana and Oklahoma State.
- Now, we'll move onto some package deals that aren't quite secured yet but ones the Vols hope they'll be able to land. After his last visit to Knoxville, Louisville Trinity weakside defensive end/jack linebacker Jason Hatcher said enough good things about Tennessee that many consider the Vols his leader. He has continued to discuss the Vols at length while doing the camp circuit. UT's stoutest competition for the four-star player appears to be Ohio State, hometown Louisville, Southern Cal and South Carolina. UT is hoping to secure a commitment from him soon.
If the Vols can sway Hatcher, it may help in landing four-star receiver James Quick, a 6-1, 180-pound star who is a top 100 player. Though the Vols are in the running, they are perhaps on the outside looking in at a prospect who has noted Louisville as his leader with Ohio State and Oregon right behind them. He also has a Bama offer. UT desperately needs to make up some ground on Quick and getting a commitment from Hatcher may just get him in his teammate's ear.
- Perhaps the farthest-fetched package deal on this list comes out of Butler High School in North Carolina. That's where a trio of highly rated prospects reside and play for a powerhouse program. A player I've been personally high on for a long time now and wanted UT to offer is quarterback Riley Ferguson, who came to UT's camp on Monday and really impressed coaches. Though he hasn't yet earned an offer, he is a guy who may be a top target moving forward, writes Callahan.
Ferguson -- who will visit UT again in the near future -- is an intriguing prospect for a couple of reasons. No. 1, he has offers from Alabama, LSU, Clemson and Georgia, among others, but he doesn't appear likely to land at any of the SEC programs because of the fact they've already got quarterbacks committed. In UA's case, the Tide have two QBs committed. So, the 6-3, 190-pound signal-caller may jump on UT's offer if he gets it. Another reason he is intriguing is he comes from a family of Vols fans who hail from Johnson City. He really may be the next guy on the list for UT, and he's one of the top uncommitted quarterbacks out there. The camp circuit is where the Vols got Nathan Peterman last year, so this is around the time Chaney gets his man.
Though Ferguson's highly recruited teammates have UT offers, they're hardly a package deal who would come along if the quarterback decided to go to Knoxville. Ferguson's top receiver Uriah LeMay committed to UGA a couple of weeks ago, and while the lure of playing with his high school quarterback would be strong, his brother -- and original QB -- Christian LeMay is already a Bulldog, so swinging that one would probably either require a Mark Richt firing or the elder LeMay getting booted from the team ... highly unlikely. Perhaps a more realistic option is linebacker Peter Kalambayi, who recently named Stanford, Virginia, Cal, Oregon and Duke as his top five with the Ducks at No. 1. Again, UT is on the outside looking in, but Kalambayi has mentioned the Vols and Sunseri before.
- Tennessee secured one of the nation's top defensive backs when Immokalee (Fla.) HS cornerback Mackensie Alexander pledged to Darin Hinshaw several months back. Since then, Alexander has been offered by essentially everybody in the nation and backed off his commitment. He has all but eliminated Miami from his favorites but still holds Florida State and Florida in high regards along with Alabama, Clemson and others. Still, the Vols are right there in the mix and mentioned every time Alexander does an interview. The No. 23 overall player in the country would be quite a coup for UT, who still has plenty of work to do to land him.
The Vols went a long way toward improving their position with Alexander when they offered his brother, 6-1, 175-pound safety and teammate Mackenro Alexander, but FSU offered a couple of weeks ago, so the Noles right now look like the favorites to land the tandem, especially since FSU has commitments from Immokalee '13 DT Deadrin Senat and '14 stud WR J.C. Jackson.
- Finally, the Vols have five defensive backs atop their board, and two of those may just require a package deal to secure. Ridgeland (Ga.) safety Vonn Bell is the top choice, and Brentwood Academy's Jalen Ramsey is probably UT's top cornerback hope. Clarksville's Jalen Reeves-Maybin is an athlete UT stands well with who probably projects to safety, and we've already talked about Alexander and his package probability. The fifth guy on that list [in no particular order] is Kell (Ga.) HS cornerback Brendan Langley.
Langley is a star in the making and a former teammate of UT freshman All-SEC safety Brian Randolph at Kell. Langley has visited UT several times but right now has Alabama slightly ahead of the Vols. He once declared Georgia and Bama his leaders, but UGA is no longer on that list. Recently, he visited Knoxville with teammate Quincy Mauger, a three-star safety who has offers from Central Florida, Georgia Tech, Furman, Iowa State and Navy. Mauger is perhaps Langley's best friend, and he will likely need to do the camp circuit to earn major offers like UT's. But extending an offer to him could really help the Vols' chances in landing Langley.
So, there you have it, Vols fans ... a list of players the Vols either are going after or could go after in this year's class. There may be more I'm leaving out that I haven't thought of. While I'm not necessarily a proponent of package deals with dead weight attached, all of the above could have some definite benefits for UT that far exceeds that of the Nance/Rogers deal.
What do you guys think? Worth the gamble? It's a question Dooley and Co. are going to have to ask many times this year, and one they've already answered in the form of offers.