Tennessee has been keeping it in the family for years.
This may be my second [and final] recruiting-themed reason for loving Tennessee, but recruiting is kind of my thing. And this isn't JUST about recruiting. It's about bleeding orange and passing that down through generations. It's about years and years of family members pulling for UT and eschewing some of the top programs in the country to carry on that legacy.
It isn't uncommon for programs across the country to have multiple related players spanning multiple generations to all play for the same football team. As a matter of fact, programs are up-in-arms when players choose to play elsewhere. In UT's case, the Vols have been able to get the players they want whose relatives have played for Tennessee more often than not.
The names have become etched in the lore of Volunteer Legend: Majors, DeLong, Colquitt, Berry.
Sure, there are times when players such as Aaron Douglas and Cameron Mayo don't pan out, but for every bust, the Volunteers have enjoyed multiple booms throughout generations. Jones has made getting those recruits with family ties to the program who are good enough to play for Tennessee a priority since coming on as head coach.
That started last season when Jones noticed that slot receiver Ryan Jenkins -- son of Lee Jenkins -- was committed to Clemson after receiving minimal interest from former UT debacle/coach Derek Dooley. Jones pushed the right buttons and convinced Jenkins to flip commitments. As it turned down, the entire family always bled orange, but Dooley and Co. didn't recruit Ryan's brother who went to Clemson and became an immediate contributor. Jones wouldn't stand for it.
It's carried on into next year when elite middle linebacker Cecil Cherry of Frostproof, Fla. -- the cousin of former UT All-SEC running back Tony Thompson -- has already committed to Jones.So has Jaylond Woods of Lenoir City whose cousin Camion Patrick committed last year but hasn't yet made it in because he's having to go to junior college.
This season, UT hopes that the core group of recruits in the 2014 class -- known as "The Legacy Class" -- help the Vols find their way from the wilderness of college football ineptitude and back to the top of the universe in the sport. This year's class boasts an abnormal amount of "legacy" players, and thus far, everybody Butch Jones has offered has either committed or have the Vols as the reported leader.
Let's take a look at the commitments UT have secured whose fathers or relatives also have played for the Vols as well as a certain duo of twin brothers Jones hopes rounds out a perfect legacy class.
VIC WHARTON: Like most of this year's legacies, he can play multiple positions, but the Independence High School rising senior is being recruited by Tennessee to play slot receiver. I believe he's better suited for defensive back, but he'll probably play somewhere down the road. Though Wharton may not wind up being the best player in this class, he's certainly been the MVP. He was the first player in this year's class to commit to Jones [on Christmas Day] and has become UT's biggest recruiter since. His uncle Brandon played basketball at UT in the late 1990s.
NEIKO CREAMER: Another athlete here, but this one's a jumbo. He is a 6-foot-4, 225-pound specimen made his name as a receiver, but he could project as a linebacker or defensive end or even tight end at UT. The Vols love his athleticism, but he's a bit of an unknown commodity after a knee injury robbed him of his junior year of high school. His father Andre played defensive back and special teams for UT in the early '80s.
TODD KELLY JR.: The Webb School safety was the first of the big-name, nationally-recruited legacies to pull the trigger, choosing UT over offers from all the major programs in the country. He has the ability to start right away, and the ball-hawking, hard-hitting playmaker is destined to play safety in Knoxville as well. His father with the same name was an All-SEC defensive end who starred for UT in the early 1990s.
DILLON BATES: The latest commitment for Tennessee is one who everybody knows. The Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., standout's father is Bill Bates, who was an All-SEC player at Tennessee before becoming an All-Pro defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys. Bates chose UT over Florida and Alabama this week at The Opening, and he'll play either strong or weakside linebacker for UT defensive coordinator John Jancek. He also had a great camp and will be a highly rated four-star on all services.
Everybody knows of the only two remaining on the board: Evan and Elliott Berry. If defensive back James Berry's name isn't the most familiar to you, the former team captain's son Eric will be. Everybody knows the former UT All-American safety bleeds orange, and we all hope the twins will, too. They remain uncommitted.
EVAN BERRY: The higher-rated Berry is a four-star prospect on some services, and he already is almost as big as his brother. He can play a bunch of positions, and where UT wants to play him is unclear. Though he's probably better suited for safety like his brother, Evan really wants the ball in his hands, and so Tennessee is saying they'll give him the opportunity to play wide receiver or running back. Regardless, you have to take an athlete of his ilk with bloodlines that have been very good to us.
- ELLIOTT BERRY: Elliott is a three-star prospect who is kind of a tweener -- not really a defensive back and a bit too small to be a linebacker. UT is recruiting him to add weight and turn into an outside linebacker, and, like his brother, he has a bunch of quality offers from SEC programs. Elliott is not nearly as outspoken or seemingly as high on the Vols as Evan, but the general consensus is both will wind up here.
Tennessee has enjoyed terrific legacy success in the past. Hopefully, the future will bring similar results.