SEC-caliber defensive linemen eligible to play immediately are rarely available at this point of the year.
So, when one of them fell into the Tennessee Volunteers' laps this week for the second year in a row, it was an unexpected and welcome gift. Now, the Vols just hope this one turns out better than the last one.
Havelock, N.C. defensive end Kendal Vickers -- a 6-foot-3, 240-pound pass-rusher who'd been committed to the South Carolina Gamecocks for more than six months -- visited UT this week and told GoVols247 he'll sign with the Vols when he returns home next week.
At the beginning of the week, Vickers was primed to go to junior college. Though he'd committed to South Carolina early in the process, the Gamecocks did not expect he'd qualify, so they kept recruiting players. Once they filled up, there simply wasn't a place for Vickers, who was just going to go to JUCO and be re-recruited in the future. That's until two unexpected things happened:
- He qualified recently, getting his grades in order to be eligible to play for a Division 1 program.
- On a visit to his high school this week to check on 2014 stud running back Derrell Scott, UT running backs coach Robert Gillespie noticed Vickers, discussed his situation with their coach and approached Vickers about visiting Knoxville. He did, and a commitment is forthcoming.
Vickers isn't the most highly-rated prospect in the country, but he does have a big upside that the 'Cocks thought enough of to extend an offer. He has a very projectable frame and is an accomplished pass-rusher. North Carolina, East Carolina and South Carolina all offered. He was expected to have to attend a JUCO or possibly prep school Georgia Military College, but he qualified instead. When he did, most of the teams in the country had filled up. Tennessee will get a late project who has an SEC frame and the past interest from some good programs.
He is rated as a three-star prospect in the 247 Composite, a two-star by 247, two-star by Scout, two-star by ESPN and a three-star on Rivals.
This is the second time in as many years that the Vols were the beneficiary of a late academic oddity that netted a defensive lineman. Last year, the Florida Gators signed Dante "Omari" Hand, a massive defensive end/defensive tackle, who failed to qualify in Gainesville. After some finagling his situation, UT was able to get him into school. The rumors were he could have gotten in Florida, but the Gators simply didn't want him. After one year of redshirting, staying out-of-shape and complaining about UT via Twitter, Hand left unceremoniously and won't return.
Vickers seems much happier with this decision. He visited Knoxville this week and immediately liked what he saw. For the Vols, he fills a major need and will be able to be brought along slowly. UT has plenty of beef and depth along the defensive front this year and won't need him. But with six defensive linemen exhausting eligibility after this season, Tennessee is woefully thin, and Vickers has enough upside to take a late shot on.
His commitment gives UT four defensive linemen in this class: DE/DT Jason Carr, DE Jaylen Miller, DE Malik Brown and now Vickers.
Congrats to Vickers for qualifying late and getting the opportunity to play in the SEC, and this is a great job by our staff of identifying a player who can help a major need this late and getting him to visit and ultimately sign. Hopefully, he'll wind up like those other diamond-in-the-rough, well-evaluated linemen the Gamecocks have been signing recently.
We're certainly happy to have him. Vickers is Tennessee's 24th commitment of this year's class, but probably only the 23rd who'll make it in. Running back Jabo Lee is not expected to qualify.