Several days ago, a virtual unknown player in Southeastern recruiting circles began tweeting about how much he loved and wanted to commit to the Tennessee Volunteers.
On Friday afternoon, Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College outside linebacker Chris Weatherd got the opportunity with an official UT offer, and he committed to Tennessee on the spot. After Vols defensive coordinator John Jancek and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen evaluated Weatherd in person this past week, they extended the offer and received their 15th overall commitment for the 2014 class in return.
Weatherd's commitment is the second in two days for the nation's No. 1-ranked recruiting class. Four-star defensive end Joe Henderson of Shaker Heights, Ohio, pledged Thursday.
Weatherd is a raw athlete with NFL size and bloodlines. His cousin, former Oklahoma standout and current Denver Broncos defensive end Jeremy Beal, may have played for the Sooners, but Weatherd passed up the same opportunity up to come to the SEC. Oklahoma offered him a scholarship Friday, but he was already set on becoming a Vol and pulled the trigger. Thigpen had been recruiting him a long while, and Jancek had been keeping constant contact with Weatherd as well.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound defensive end/outside linebacker is being recruited by Tennessee to play on the second level of the defense. He claims to run a 4.53 40-yard dash, and if he is that fast, he'll certainly be able to help a unit that will graduate six senior linebackers after this season. UT also is in good shape with high school linebackers Dillon Bates, Kevin Mouhon and KeShun Freeman, among others, but getting a JUCO linebacker who can help right away could pay big dividends. Also, it's not out of the question that A.J. Johnson or, less likely, Curt Maggitt go pro after this season. If that's the case, UT has only 3 or 4 linebackers on its entire roster.
Needless to say, the Vols need a ton of depth at linebacker and need to sign at the very least five 'backers in this class. Given that Jancek runs a lot of 4-2-5 looks, it's not essential that the Vols have 100 linebackers on their roster, but they do need nine or 10 at the very least. That should give you a better idea of how much Tennessee needs Weatherd and how much the Vols need Weatherd to be good.
UT's newest commit held offers from Oklahoma, South Florida, Louisiana Tech, Iowa State, North Texas, Louisiana Monroe and Texas State. While that's far from the greatest offer sheet in the world, the Sooners offer makes you feel a little better about taking him at this stage, and if Jancek and Thigpen both evaluated him and decided to offer, you have to believe Weatherd fits what they want this defense to do.
Weatherd marks the first linebacker commit of this season for the Vols, unless athlete Neiko Creamer winds up playing the position. He is being brought in primarily to rush the passer, but it appears that he has decent coverage skills as well. Bates is arguably the best coverage linebacker coming out of high school in the entire nation, and for a defense sorely lacking on team speed, getting fast linebackers are huge needs in this class. It is also a big deal that Weatherd is on schedule to graduate in December and enroll in time to participate in next year's spring drills, therefore putting him a leg up in the battle to win a starting spot next year.
If there's one attribute Weatherd possesses, it's speed. He is far from polished, but it is obvious coaches liked him enough to take him at this stage. He is a very similar player to former Vols 2013 JUCO commit DeVondre Campbell, who decommitted when Derek Dooley got fired, committed to Texas and wound up signing with the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The JUCO where Weatherd plays has been good to UT in the past, giving the Vols another heat-seeking missile OLB Nevin McKenzie. He fits a major need, and with Tennessee and Oklahoma offers in the past week, it seems the Vols got on him at the right time -- just before he possibly blows up. Welcome to Big Orange Country, Chris!