With so many University of Tennessee legends and recruits on campus Saturday for the Vols' first spring practice of the season, there was a perfect climate for prospects to get a feel for the Tennessee that used to be.
One of those players whose father played for the Vols during the glory days called Butch Jones today after deciding he wanted to try to be a part of bringing UT back from its current dark days.
Knoxville Webb's Todd Kelly Jr. -- one of the top safety prospects in the country -- attended the Vols' spring opener with his father and made the decision today that he wanted to follow in his footsteps. The commitment gives UT its second pledge in two days -- joining three-star offensive lineman Coleman Thomas -- and he becomes arguably Jones' top [and most important] recruit in his short tenure.
Kelly had offers from nearly every major program in the nation, including Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Southern Cal, Notre Dame, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Oklahoma and ... well, you get the picture ... everybody who is anybody. He had more than 40 written offers and had become a national recruit that everybody desired in this class.
Many experts thought Kelly would draw out the process and take a meticulous approach to the recruiting process, but most felt it would come down to the Vols and Alabama, where his sister is currently a cheerleader. Kelly had taken multiple visits to both campuses, and he hadn't tipped his hand at all lately in where he was leaning.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound safety is rated the No. 7 safety in the country, No. 2 prospect in the state and the 75th-rated overall prospect in the nation by 247 Sports. He is the 59th-ranked overall player in the nation according to Rivals. Scout rates him the No. 10 safety.
To say this is a major surprise wouldn't exactly be accurate because he is a legacy who was expected to heavily consider the Vols all the way throughout the process, but for him to end it this early is certainly a shocker. Kelly is not only a huge pickup at a massive position of need on the heels of Vonn Bell choosing Ohio State instead of Tennessee on National Signing Day, but it's also one of those pledges that can get the ball rolling for a big year on the recruiting trail.
With Kelly and Vic Wharton already in the fold, Jones and the Volunteers are already off to a great start in this year's legacy class and instate as well. Kelly has ties to important prospects in this class, and made two calls upon committing to UT -- one to Wharton and the other to five-star running back and top Tennessee priority Jalen Hurd, a five-star running back from Hendersonville (Tenn.) Beech High School and one of the top prospects in the nation. The pair of players formed a bond at a recent UT junior day, and their relationship could prove beneficial to UT in his recruitment.
There are other UT legacies in this year's class who have Vols offers or may get them in the near future, but the top priorities on that list are Kelly, Bill Bates' son Dillon -- a four-star linebacker from Florida, Neiko Creamer -- a three-star wide receiver and son of Andre, and, of course, the Berry twins -- Eric Berry's twin brothers Evan and Elliott. The commitment from Kelly could prove beneficial to UT in the recruitment of players such as Hurd, the Berrys, RaShaan Galden, Bates, Blaise Taylor and others.
This commitment cannot be overstated in this rebuilding process. It is absolutely huge, and I figured that Kelly would need to see the Vols win on the field in order to believe in this staff enough to decide he wanted to play in Knoxville the next three-to-five years. But this staff continues to sell kids in their philosophy early in the process, and this could be the beginnings of the recruiting class that ultimately turns things around for us.
Getting a player of Kelly's ilk along with one like Wharton gives UT two very important extra recruiters through the rest of the process. Hopefully, they can help convince other prospects that this staff is turning things around. This is certainly a phenomenal start.
Welcome home, TKJr.!