Butch Jones and his coaching staff have wasted no time establishing relationships with players from this year's class and have the Tennessee Vols second nationally in the early rankings. UT also has three quick commitments for the 2015 class -- all from local players who are poised to be highly-coveted recruits.
On Sunday night, the Vols got some big future news from another local prospect who has the potential to be a major national recruit when 6-foot-6, 230-pound Darel Middleton of Powell High School announced via Twitter that he is poised to become UT's first pledge for the 2016 class, officially notifying coaches Monday morning. Yes, that's right -- that means he's a rising sophomore in high school.
Though he's still basically still a baby, Middleton is known as a man among boys on East Tennessee football fields. As a freshman, Middleton played wide receiver and defensive end and put up a small freshman highlight reel that will pretty much make your mouth fall open. You can check those highlights out here and here. He's a virtual lock for the state's top player in the '16 class and is poised to be one of the top players in the nation.
Picked your jaw up yet? Keep reading.
With his blend of size and athleticism, he looks like the type of player who can grow into a five-star, top-20 national player. Some analysts and high school coaches out there have thrown some comparisons around such as Jadaveon Clowney and John Henderson. [Note: Those are not my words nor comparison, so let's clear that up.] While that's really lofty praise and probably unfair expectations to heap on a kid who still has more than three years before he ever sees a college football field, the potential is obvious. Quite simply put, Middleton has unlimited potential and could grow into a superstar prospect.
What is unclear is what position Middleton will wind up playing in college. He almost assuredly won't play wide receiver, and also is unlikely to play tight end. Instead, he is expected to be a strongside defensive end or potentially even a defensive tackle. He has a massive frame that can carry plenty more weight. He finished with 14 catches for 210 yards and a touchdown and added 12 tackles, four for a loss and three sacks playing as a freshman. He said he runs a 4.7 40-yard dash.
In the past, previous Tennessee coaching staffs have been criticized for being late to offer prospects. That obviously isn't the case with Jones and crew, who identified Middleton as an important target very early and closed the deal. Having several prospects in the area over the next few years who grew up wanting to play for UT and who are good enough to be identified as players who have that caliber early has been an ideal ingredient for Jones to get commitments.
While it's difficult to get too excited about getting a commitment from a high school freshman who could change his mind more than he changes underwear, it speaks volumes about this staff that players of Middleton's ilk think enough of them and the direction of the program to end the recruiting process before it ever really starts. The Vols doubtlessly will have to fend off suitors for Middleton, but given that he grew up a UT fan and is infatuated with the coaching staff, the Vols appear to have a good shot at hanging onto him.
Welcome home, young Darel. Now, keep eating, keep growing and anchor that defensive line -- way down the road when I'm 35 years old.