Tennessee's newest commitment is the third five-star Butch Jones has landed during his time on Rocky Top, joining Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone from last year's legacy class. By comparison, Derek Dooley signed one five star during his time, the oft-troubled Da'Rick Rogers. Lane Kiffin landed Bryce Brown and Janzen Jackson in his only attempt, both showing flashes of greatness before leaving the program.
Butch's sustained excellence in recruiting sends us back to the pleasant nostalgia of the Phillip Fulmer days. Some would say recruiting rankings were far less reliable back in those days, and some of the results would agree. For instance, in 2007 Fulmer inked four five-stars straight out of high school (plus five-star juco Kenny O'Neal). Three of them were Brent Vinson, Chris Donald, and Ben Martin. The fourth was Eric Berry.
But even in Fulmer's prime, some commits were worth more than others. Landing a kid like McKenzie changes the entire landscape of a class, in our case hopefully changing the entire landscape of the program. Fulmer never had to recruit to bring the Vols back from any kind of hole, so in that sense you could argue guys like McKenzie are worth even more from a fan perspective. Tennessee's recent struggles in recruiting defensive tackles out of high school show you just how much Butch has changed things.
We hope a few years from now we can say our excitement for McKenzie is justified. For now, we're simply enjoying the moment as Tennessee lands one of its biggest commitments of the last decade. Only a select few have stood out at this stage of the game, giving Vol fans reason to shout for joy at say, 10:00 PM on a Thursday night in July.
What other commits have created this kind of buzz in the fanbase? Kahlil McKenzie joins a select group:
For me and I think for many of us, this was the moment we first began to believe in Butch Jones. We still haven't seen what Hurd can do, but his commitment in mid-March last year we do know became the beginning of something much bigger for Butch Jones and recruiting. Hurd wasn't a legacy kid with any additional pull, but was an in-state target, the first and biggest chance for Butch to repair the damage done by Derek Dooley. And Jones repaired it eleven months before National Signing Day. So beaten down after false hope in 2012 and not really getting the coach we wanted, this was the very first moment where you thought, "Wait a minute...maybe we got the right guy after all." If Tennessee does get to the proverbial "back" some time soon, the commitment of Hurd (and McKenzie) could be the foundation, as Brad said at the time:
Jones said two days ago that this is a program waking up. With commitments like Kelly and now Hurd, maybe it's time we all should start believing how hot the Vols are on the recruiting trail, and just how that could translate to us possibly -- finally -- crawling out of a decade-long slumber.
Almost four years earlier, the nation's number one overall player made people believe in Lane Kiffin. Well, most people. Brown's one-year career was swept away in the hatred for Kiffin after he left, but 18% of those who voted in our 2009 poll the day he committed wished we had passed on him, because this kid had baggage already. Still, getting the number one player in the nation was a huge deal, and with some anti-Fulmer sentiment still in the air this one made many believe Kiffin could take the mantle and carry the program forward by landing players like Brown as Fulmer once did.
Drawing another legacy in Eric Berry away from Georgia in December 2006 was a big deal, as was the thought that a true freshman could step in right away and play at such a high level for a Tennessee program still hovering around the Top 25. Again, maybe things were that much different back then. I remember thinking, "Okay, sure, they say he's going to come in and start right away, but that's just hype." But Eric Berry became a superstar as a true freshman, validating his five-star ranking and the promise many fans saw in him from his commitment. Playing safety may give one less instant impact than defensive tackle or an offensive skill position, but Berry was who we thought he was from day one.
Gerald Riggs, Jr.
Here's a case of massive recruiting hype overshadowing what still ended up to be a pretty decent career. Riggs' stature and importance to Vol Nation during his recruitment was probably slightly inflated because he played so close to home at Chattanooga Red Bank. Riggs headlined a five five-star class from Fulmer in 2002 on the heels of coming so close to the BCS title game. While guys like James Banks and J.T. Mapu had isolated moments, Riggs was steady in running for more than 1,000 yards in 2004 before the entire offense was derailed in the Ainge/Clausen fiasco of 2005 and Riggs himself was injured halfway through. In the moment though, this was Tennessee's biggest get at running back since...
If you think playing true freshmen right away was a crazy thought in 2007, in 1997 it was so unusual the Vols didn't even get him on the field in the loss to Florida. But they repented the very next week, and Lewis turned in a freshman campaign for the ages. Lewis didn't look like a freshman as one of the nation's top tailback prospects, and with Jay Graham lost to graduation fans were incredibly eager to see him in action. Like Eric Berry, no one missed on him.
But sometimes you do miss, and Mississippi's Brian Darden is the best example I know of in Tennessee recruiting lore. The five star signed with the Vols in 1995, didn't qualify until 1996, then if I remember correctly said something to Jay Graham about taking his job. He ran for 116 yards in one year, then was dismissed from the squad. You just never know.
I think you know this one.
What other Vol commitments got you this excited in the moment?