Looking ahead instead of behind …
The dead period in college football recruiting is ending. It was in place to protect coaches of bowl teams from being overtaken by coaches with time on their hands.
The turn of the calendar means Tennessee can resume pursuit of young talent supposedly better than what it has in the bank.
Butch Jones and associates assembled a strange preliminary list of three-star commitments while looking all around for more famous names. This is the controversial shotgun approach to recruiting, based on bountiful travel budgets – go here and there and look at everybody, extend scholarship offers to 300 possibilities and hope to hit a top 25 as permitted by NCAA restrictions.
Each time the collection appears complete, a better possibility suddenly develops an interest in Tennessee. To create space, one of the early commitments mysteriously goes away. Hard to tell if 18-year-olds read tea leaves precisely or coaches suggest looking around for more favorable playing opportunities.
Prep players, relatives, girlfriends and high school coaches are often befuddled or offended by the shuffle. They have told all their friends about the scholarship at Tennessee. Even worse than the embarrassment, they are sometimes left to learn of changing plans through osmosis.
One father said coaches never said anything. They simply stopped calling his son. He took that as a clue.
Recruiting travels a two-way street. Future stars, apparently dedicated and all locked in, may succumb to rival lures and simply walk away, leaving terrible voids and fever blisters. Recruiting is a cruel and often heartless sport. Promises don’t count until signed in blood and legally notarized – or the young man enrolls in school.
Securing that December commitment from Trey Smith, best offensive lineman in the state and maybe America, did not eliminate all alarm among experienced recruiting followers. It appears there are holes in the fence that Butch built around his turf.
Clemson is causing consternation. Texas A&M has invaded. Alabama is a constant threat. LSU and Oklahoma think they have one each of ours. Others are circling like hawks, looking for a free lunch.
In times past, Tennessee recruiters went elsewhere due to the perceived shortage of talent in our state. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
In some cases, there are disagreements about how good is a certain prep player and how much does it matter which college he chooses. There is no disagreement about wide receiver Tee Higgins of Oak Ridge. The Vols know he is good. Clemson has him. There are whispers about academic shortages. The Tigers haven’t noticed.
Amari Rodgers of Knoxville Catholic, son of ex-Vol Tee Martin, never has shown deep interest in Tennessee. Clemson wins again.
Clemson success is relevant. Are there secret recruiting weapons? Dan Brooks is no secret. He is associate head coach. He was a key man with Phillip Fulmer for 15 years. Marion Hobby is a sharp Tiger who played at Tennessee. Both know which interstate exits to take and a lot of people who live nearby.
John Chavis, once a gritty Volunteer, longtime defensive coach for Fulmer, crosses state lines while wearing a Texas A&M shirt. He signed two from Tennessee last winter that UT didn’t make much fuss about. He is back, trying to take someone Tennessee wants.
Maybe you’ve read and fretted about de-commitments. They make headlines but should be evaluated carefully. Ten who said they would be Volunteers have since said so long and are going elsewhere. Sometimes that means better prospects have appeared.
If more emerge, others will clear out. It is the law of the recruiting jungle.
Marvin West invites reader reactions.
His address is firstname.lastname@example.org