Way back before the Orange & White Game, Tennessee football commitments were tweeting about a silent UT commit who'd go public for the Vols at the spring game.
That player was Cortez McDowell, and the commitment never materialized.
Over the course of the past few months, McDowell was courted by Alabama and Ohio State. Auburn really turned up the pressure in his recruitment, and McDowell visited Florida State as well. This past weekend, Georgia coaches told him he was their top priority at safety at their annual "Dawg Night" event that produced four UGA commitments.
None of those pitches made McDowell stray from his first love, however. Despite all the rumors about his recruitment being an Auburn/Georgia/Florida State battle, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound safety from Locust Grove, Ga., called Butch Jones on Tuesday morning and became UT's 20th known commitment in the 2014 class.
McDowell chose UT over claimed offers from Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Cincinnati, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Missouri, N.C. State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Ole Miss, Purdue, Syracuse, Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, West Virginia and Wisconsin. He was a desirable player to most of the top teams in the South and across the country.
He's the 131st-ranked player in the country, according to 247Sports, who also believes he's the No. 12 safety and ninth-best player in Georgia. Rivals believes he's the 242nd-best player in the country and 22nd-ranked safety. He's the 21st ranked safety on Scout and the 13th-rated safety on ESPN, who believes he's the No. 221 player in the country. McDowell is a universal four-star player. He also is a standout baseball player who could play both sports on the next level.
After this weekend at Dawg Night, message board rumors heated up that McDowell's interest in the Dawgs was genuine. The visit to Athens was enough for McDowell to proclaim it was a three-team race between Georgia, Auburn and Tennessee, and it was a bit of a surprise commitment for him to pull the trigger this early. Most experts believed his recruitment could stretch on another month or more.
McDowell will almost certainly continue to be recruited by high-profile schools, and the Vols will have to work to keep him. But it's a major coup that UT was a school he was passionate about early and Jones stuck with it, weathered the storm of McDowell visiting other top schools in the country and ultimately choosing UT.
McDowell is the 20th known commitment for UT in the '14 class, and with Jerome Dews potentially being a grayshirt option, UT could be able to get about 11 more commits potentially. With McDowell's verbal pledge, the Vols solidify their No. 1 ranking on Rivals and catapult to second behind Alabama on 247Sports' rankings. UT is firmly in the top five on Scout and ESPN as well.
This commitment gives UT a formidable pair of pledges at the safety position in four-star Knoxville legacy Todd Kelly Jr. and now McDowell. Given that the Vols are reportedly recruiting Elliott Berry as an outside linebacker, Evan Berry as an offensive athlete, RaShaan Gaulden as a cornerback and Vandy commit Emmanuel Smith as an outside 'backer, it's completely possible this rounds out UT's class at the position. As I noted above, UT will have to fend off plenty of suitors to keep McDowell, but this is a great summer development for the class. Some believe the hard-hitting McDowell projects better as an outside linebacker on the next level, but UT and most others were still recruiting him as a defensive back.
This really kicks off "Foundation Week" in style for Tennessee. The week will conclude with Sunday's "Foundation Day" camp -- similar to UGA's Dawg Night and Florida's Friday Night Lights -- and is expected to include a very salty visitor list including many of Tennessee's top targets and current commitments. The Vols expect at least a couple of commitments from this week, and McDowell wasn't one I'd expected may pop, so there could be plenty more good news coming.
The beginning of the week brought some concerning news that McDowell may not show up this weekend because he was playing in a baseball tournament in Texas. With that report, some had speculated that the Vols were continuing to slip in his recruitment. Though he may not be able to show up, McDowell's commitment puts those rumors to rest as now he's UT's to lose. He visited with his brother in late June and that trip really re-sold UT as the place McDowell wanted to be. His lead recruiter is Tommy Thigpen with an assist from Willie Martinez. Both of those coaches were on him when they were at Auburn as well.
But McDowell fell in love with Tennessee early and after looking other places, UT just kept rising to the top. He followed through with a commitment Tuesday. Welcome to Big Orange Country, Mr. McDowell!