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Getting to know Tennessee's new recruits: No. 29, WR Tyler Maples

Another day, and another promising home-brewed recruit, this one from just down the road in Maryville, Tennessee. Presenting No. 29, WR Tyler Maples:

Orange Blood is Best

Remember when I said that the thinking with local kids is that they'll give their all for the Orange? Well, consider Tyler Maples the poster boy:
"When [Tennessee coaches] weren't recruiting locally, they were getting scrutinized," said Maples. "Now everyone says they have too many, because we are not ranked the highest. When it all boils down to it, it will be best for the program because we'll go out there and give the extra effort for this state and these fans."

All right. So point proven. But after the fourth in-state product, I've come to another conclusion: when local kids commit early to the school they are closest to, they will be underrated by the recruiting services. Why? Because such a commitment negatively impacts the "desirability factor." In other words, one of the things that drives a recruit's rating is the presence or absence of offers from other schools, and it appears that other schools think it's a waste of time to pursue local guys that commit early to play for their local school.

Case in point: With powerhouse program Maryville just down the road from the Tennessee campus, the Volunteer coaching staff had been keeping a close eye on Tyler Maples all season. Very early in the process, they called Maryville coach George Quarles and told him that they wanted to offer Maples a scholarship.

Tyler's mom, who got the news first, contacted her husband, Tyler's older brother Ryan (a prior standout for the Rebels), and Tyler, who was just getting out of basketball practice, and told them to hurry home.

"He came in, and I already had on all Tennessee stuff," Ryan said. "My dad asked him if he'd like to play [at] UT. Tyler's first words were, `They'll never offer me.' Dad said, `Well, they've offered you a scholarship.' It knocked the wind out of [Tyler]. He just sat there. Mom pressed the tape player, and it started playing Rocky Top."

Maples was the second commit of the 2007 class, and once he committed, he canceled all scheduled summer camps except Tennessee's because he "did not want to waste any other school's time." "It has been a dream of mine to play at Tennessee," said Maples. "I was supposed to go to Alabama . . . for junior day and I just didn't want to go because nothing could beat Tennessee."

Win. Win. Win.

Five words: dude knows how to win. Maples helped Maryville win three consecutive 4A state championships. Maples himself has never lost a high school football game. So let's just say that he's pre-conditioned to victory.
Maples, third from the right, celebrates a state championship.

And don't mistake for a moment that Maples was just any old cog in the Maryville machine. One look at his many recruiting videos may induce visions of Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija, except with a higher vowel-to-consonant ratio. Tennessee's 4A Mr. Football has great hands and is extraordinarily athletic and deceptively fast. His knack for tacking on yards after the catch paid dividends as a senior, when he caught 56 passes for 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in a system known for spreading the wealth. Six of his 36 career touchdowns came on punt or kick returns.

Workin' for the Weekend

Credit Maples' work ethic for his success. "I go into each day thinking that if I'm not working, then someone else is, so I always am pushing myself to get better. I know I have to get faster and put on more muscle to make myself stronger, but it's something that I'm committed to doing."

Tyler learned to catch the football with his hands by catching balls while standing behind the goal post. Summer workouts consisted of pulling blocking sleds strapped to his waist across the practice field and running steps at Shields Stadium. He'd try anything to improve, including "strength shoes" or different lifts in the weight room.

And I have it on good authority (oooh, I have sources now), that Maples will be taking yoga this year to improve his flexibility. No word yet on whether he's changing his name to Sunshine.

Did I say Maples is deceptively fast? Yeah, well, when he attended Tennessee's camp, coach Brooks told him that he could just hang out and that he didn't have to run. Maples would have none of that, and he first clocked a 4.41 and followed that up with a 4.39. "The only reason I ran at the camp was to prove to the doubters who said I ran a 4.5, and show the coaches that I was still working hard."

Rivals tabbed Maples the No. 18 prospect in Tennessee and dubbed him the sleeper of the class, and I'd have to agree. Add another twenty pounds to his frame, and, surprisingly, Maples' specs aren't that different from Robert Meachem's. No, really. And he's already gotten started at making up the difference. Maples told me this week that he began the Tennessee workout program three weeks ago and that he will begin working out and running with the team when he enrolls for summer school on June 4th.

Tyler Maples, welcome to Tennessee.

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