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Recruiting Begins Fresh With Jones Era

Trying to make heads or tails of recruiting, where prospects stand and the status of this year's recruiting class are nearly impossible as new Tennessee head coach Butch Jones hits the ground running.


Butch Jones doesn't sleep.

He recruits.

At least, that's what it seems like thus far six days into the 44-year-old Michigan native's tenure as the University of Tennessee's new head football coach. It appears that Jones has been here, there and everywhere every day of his new job so far. He took the time for an ultimately fruitless interview with former Vols legend Tee Martin before Martin decided to turn down his alma mater. But immediately thereafter, he was on the fast track to Nashville to recruit.

When it comes to recruiting updates, I wasn't even going to try to put anything together this week. That coaching search took a lot out of all of us, and we'll also be recapping the coaching hires once that wide receivers coach is in place and all the new guys are settled. But I've had several of my buddies who are regular readers ask me to compile some things about this year's recruiting class, so I figured I'd try.

This is by no means a complete list of everything that has happened. It's also probably not everything I've heard recently. I can post this recruiting information, and two minutes from now, it may not be accurate. For instance, last week, four-star linebacker and Florida State commitment E.J. Levenberry expressed interest in Tennessee. A day later, he said he was firm to Florida State and encouraged new UT linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen not to visit him.

It's ever-changing, this stupid season. And it's going to be even more ridiculous trying to cover recruiting when you have no idea who is interested, who's not interested and who we're interested in. But we'll try. [Remember: Recruiting is ugly, and it works both ways. So, don't get your feelings hurt by the likelihood that we're not honoring some of these commitments. New coaches have systems, and certain players don't fit in certain systems. It is what it is.]

So, here goes.

  • As far as the status of current commitments, here's what we know:
  1. the Vols received news this week that former commitment Dominic Zanca was decommitting and then committing to Duke. That sentence should tell you everything you need to know about the fact that we politely encouraged him to look elsewhere.
  2. Also, there have been unconfirmed rumors that two-star linebacker commit Zach Barnes of Grayson (Ga.) won't be retained. Barnes was a Sal Sunseri prospect from the get-go, and no new coach has made an effort to contact him.
  3. The Hawaii duo of linebacker Colton Goeas and offensive lineman Reeve Koehler haven't been contacted by the new staff. That's a bit puzzling considering Koehler is a US Army All-American who, even though wasn't a commitment, was a strong UT lean. But if the coaches A) think their time is better served going somewhere other than Hawaii or B) don't think Goeas fits, and don't think Koehler will come without him, maybe they should look in another direction. Koehler has already been offered by Sam Pittman in his new job as Arkansas offensive line coach, and he's already scheduled a visit, according to GoVols247.
  4. Another guy to watch the status of who may not be kept in the fold is California tight end Chauntez Jackson.
  5. According to multiple reports this week by Volquest and 247 Sports, UT is fighting an uphill battle for the Hutchinson Community College duo of defensive tackle Ben Bradley and defensive end/linebacker DeVondre Campbell, who'd been committed to the Vols. Without Brandon Staley in the fold at UT, those are going to be tough pulls. Bradley will decide next week between UT, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Missouri. Campbell is heavily considering Texas and is probably leaning Longhorns right now. The Vols are no longer recruiting injured four-star DT Toby Johnson of Hutch.
  6. Wide receiver Paul Harris will receive a visit tonight to try to firm him up and keep him from visiting Oregon. Jason Carr will take visits to Ole Miss and Alabama but seems to like what he's heard from UT. Most of the other guys appear firm.
  7. Tennessee will have to fight to keep Dan Skipper, who really loved Pittman. I'm sure Arkansas will offer the towering offensive tackle, and he is also being courted by several programs out West including Stanford. I'd be stunned if he wound up at UT.
  8. The coaching staff made an impression on Cam Sutton during an in-home visit. Corey Vereen also liked what he heard from UT's staff.
  • When you're looking at possible players who may follow Jones and his staff from Cincinnati to Tennessee, there are a couple of names of Bearcats commitments that have already popped up and bear watching. One is Cincinnati offensive lineman Dylan Wiesman, who expressed interest in UT early but still doesn't have an offer from Jones as UT head coach. Perhaps the guy most worth watching is 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end A.J. Branisel.
  • One area the Vols have tried to raid so far -- and we'll see if they have any luck doing so -- is Auburn's current crop of commitments. With ace recruiter Thigpen and former AU defensive backs coach Willie Martinez on the new Vols staff, there are many connections there Jones is trying to exploit. Three names stand at the top of that list of guys who either are current commitments or former ones to the Tigers -- five-star defensive end Carl Lawson, top-ranked linebacker Reuben Foster, and inside linebacker Trey Johnson. Thigpen was in on all three of those star linebacker/end commits [whether as the primary recruiter or the position coach] and he's either visited or will visit all three. All would have to be considered longshots at this point, but they are possibilities. Lawson remains committed to AU, but he's liked Tennessee for a while now, too. Johnson decommitted from the Tigers and currently favors Ohio State. Foster wants to land where Trooper Taylor does, but Taylor hasn't been picked up yet by anyone and may not be with the NCAA questions looming over him.
  • Former Auburn commit Jahmere Irvin-Sills is a fast cornerback the Vols need, but they are facing competition from Ole Miss, UCLA and others. Thigpen was Irvin-Sills' primary recruiter, and it looks like UT will get a visit from the Delaware product some time in January. Another name that has popped up is AU commit Lemond Johnson, who is 6-1, 190 and looks like a safety prospect. Johnson will be coming to Knoxville today and hold the distinction of being Jones' first official visitor. That one is worth watching, as he really likes Martinez.
  • When it comes to throwing out offers, one intriguing name the Vols have not yet offered is Elite 11 winner and duel-threat quarterback Asiantii Woulard of Winter Park, Fla. Woulard's offer sheet is puzzling considering his size (6-4, 200), status as the Elite 11 winner and former commitment to South Florida. He decommitted when the Bulls fired Skip Holtz, and he has expressed interest in UT. He seems the perfect athlete to run Jones' system, but it appears Jones and UT quarterback commitment Riley Ferguson are happy with one another, and it is uncertain with all their needs whether the Vols will offer another quarterback. TCU, South Florida, Arkansas, Wisconsin and NC State are all on Woulard's list.
  • The Vols are still desperately searching for an elite running back. New Hope (Ala.) running back Johnathan Ford -- a Vanderbilt commit -- has received visits from UT coaches who've told him he's their No. 1 choice. The Vols are trying to get a visit. Though they may say he's their top choice, that may just be recruit-speak. Tennessee is still battling for five-star running back Derrick Green's services, and retaining Jay Graham should really help in that race. Green slightly favors Michigan right now, but his family would like for him to stay closer to his home in Virginia. Finally, the other elite back UT really likes is Florida's Tarean Folston, but UT is battling Florida State, Notre Dame and Oregon, among others, for him.
  • MarQuez North is one of the top receivers in the country and is a desperate need for the Vols with Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson likely turning pro. North received an in-home visit from lead recruiter Jay Graham and Jones on Wednesday night, and the visit went great. Read Ryan Callahan's story($) here: The big impression was that's the first head coach who has visited North in-home.
  • Tennessee has really, really tried to get back in with Nashville star cornerback Corn Elder, but that one -- according to Volquest -- looks like an uphill battle. He did get an offer this week. Tee Martin would have really helped with five-star corner Jalen Ramsey, but he won't come to UT now. Also, five-star safety Vonn Bell -- a longtime UT fan -- is leaning heavily toward Alabama and will probably pick the Crimson Tide. The Vols totally dropped the ball with Derek Dooley and crew in that one, but I'm sure Jones will try to make a late push to get back in Bell's good graces.
  • Besides Lemond Johnson, there have been several other UT offers extended in the past few days. Alabama linebacker Zach Cunningham is blowing up, and the Vols have offered along with Auburn and Oregon. The Tigers look like the team to beat in that one. UT legacy Ryan Jenkins -- a four-star slot receiver who is committed to Clemson and is the son of former Vol Lee Jenkins -- was given an offer and is intrigued and likely will visit. Jenkins' brother plays for Clemson. The Vols also extended an offer to blazing fast cornerback Jaleel Hytchye of Cincinnati. The 5-11, 170 pounder runs a 4.4 and has offers from Arizona State, Northwestern, Pitt, Cincinnati and Kentucky, among others. One name UT has a real chance with is Spanish Fort (Ala.) HS cornerback Jonathan Cook, who is committed to Nebraska. He seemed excited about the recent offer, but an offer from Alabama or Auburn would likely end the process for Cook.
  • Jones also extended an offer to JUCO tight end Brandon Vandenburg and are battling to get one of his final visits, stud defensive tackle Lavon Hooks, who favors Ole Miss right now. Also, Davin Bellamy -- who once favored UT but didn't get a quick offer and wound up committing to Florida State -- is getting a visit today, according to GoVols247.
  • Tennessee also offered another running back in Deland (Fla.) all-purpose back JoJo Kemp. The 5-9, 190-pounder has offers from Kentucky, Nebraska, Pitt, South Florida and West Virginia. He is a former Bulls commit.
  • Also, many 2014 and 2015 recruits in-state and out have already received the love from UT coaches as they try to play the constant game of catch-up.

That's all I've been able to gather lately. Like I said, it certainly isn't all-inclusive, but it gives you an idea of just how fluid recruiting is right now. My advice would be not to get too emotionally invested this year. But one thing appears evident -- this staff is going to be relentless on the recruiting trail and will try to make up for all the mistakes Dooley and his staff made while they were here.