The Tennessee Volunteers football team is much deeper and stronger than it has been in the recent past, thanks to Derek Dooley providing a little stability within the program the past few years while recruiting low-risk, high-reward players.
While UT's on-the-field struggles have hamstrung the Vols a bit in putting together elite classes, three solid hauls have Dooley feeling like this season will be his best yet and one where they start finally turning the corner. Even so, that doesn't mean the Vols are in a position yet to redshirt everybody who comes in. That's why every single player in Dooley's recruiting classes are extra important -- everybody needs to be ready to play some sort of role, if needed.
The Vols believe they signed several immediate contributors in last year's class -- a consensus top-25 class despite an overhaul in the coaching staff. The Rocky Top Tennessee 2012 magazine breaks down every single player, but below is a glimpse into my recruiting capsules.
We didn't have to leave the 'Bs,' either. Sheesh, how many players did the Vols sign last year whose last name begins with B?
Drae Bowles, 6’1", 205 WR Jackson, TN. [Jackson Christian HS]: The Vols didn’t have a lot of luck recruiting in-state in 2012, but they did secure one of their top two targets when Bowles pulled the trigger early in the process after being lured to Knoxville by former wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett. Bowles stayed true to his commitment through all the coaching changes and may be the most physically ready high school receiver in a loaded receiving class for the Vols.
Though he had a relatively quiet senior season with Jackson Christian running the option, it did nothing to hurt his stock. He was selected to the U.S. Army All-American game and showed out much of the week in drills leading up to the game. Though he isn’t the fastest player, Bowles was praised for his immense physicality and ability to catch the ball in public, leading two separate recruiting experts to compare him to Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant at this age. Bowles isn’t that big yet, but he has the body type to put on that size and still be an explosive playmaker on the college level. At worst, he looks to be a dependable staple on UT’s offense for the next four years.
Deion Bonner, 5’11", 185 CB Columbus, Ga. [Carver HS]: Sometimes, coaches feel talent is worth a gamble, and Dooley certainly took a public relations risk with the signing of Bonner, an immensely talented cornerback who encountered some trouble prior to his senior season at Carver. Bonner was arrested and eventually pled guilty to a misdemeanor following his involvement in the theft of iPods and iPhones from several University of Georgia football players in UGA’s locker room while on a visit to see the Bulldogs. He was suspended for the season’s first five games but sat three more because of a school suspension and also served probation, made financial restitution, and performed community service.
Once back on the field, Bonner showed the skills that made him one of the top five players in a loaded state of Georgia entering his senior season. He capped his career with nine interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 27 tackles and was named co-MVP of the Georgia all-star game. He also garnered first-team all-state honors. Bonner was recruited by new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, who tried to lure him to Alabama while with the Tide, and Sunseri thinks Bonner has the ability to be an immediate impact player. He had offers from everybody prior to his run-in with authorities and eventually chose UT over Arkansas and Oklahoma, among others.
Kenneth Bynum, 6’2", 220 ILB Jacksonville, Fla. [Raines HS]: When Dalton Santos decommitted for his dream school of Texas and Otha Peters flipped to Arkansas, the Vols were desperate to find help at linebacker. That led them to Jacksonville’s Kenneth Bynum, a longtime Cincinnati pledge who was immediately intrigued by the opportunity to play in the Southeastern Conference. Bynum spoke with his parents and coach – who’d played for Sunseri in college – postponed his commitment, visited Knoxville, and then chose the Vols two weeks after Signing Day. He may be a late reach, but he has the body type that’s worth the gamble. Bynum continually tried to manage his weight as a standout high school wrestler, but he has the frame to carry 235-245 pounds, and the Vols desire him to get there to play inside ’backer in the 3-4.
What do you think of UT's recruiting class it signed last year? How many of those guys do you believe will be immediate contributors for the Vols? Let's hear your predictions, and remember to get your magazine today! You can get the Rocky Top Tennessee 2012 print edition for $19.99, the Kindle version for $9.99, or the ebook (a downloadable PDF) for $7.99.