By Alex Norman
Ever since the start of the 2008 season, the positive moments have been few and far between for the Tennessee football program.
They are on their fourth head coach.
Their record stands at 28-34.
The Vols haven’t won a bowl game.
Tennessee lost a game because they had 13 players on the field when the clock struck zero, and lost a game when their opponents had 17 players on the field when the clock struck zero.
There have been player arrests, fan unrest, coaching abandonment, shower techniques, Rommel sightings, bamboo growing, year zero, absurd coach buyouts, Gruden rumors, tossed beer bottles, and many, many empty seats at Neyland Stadium.
So when something happens that isn’t negative, Tennessee fans have that same look as Tom Hanks had in “Castaway” when the freighter passes by him while he is lying on the nearly destroyed lifeboat that he made with tree trunks and branches. Is this it? Is this finally the time to be rescued?
With that in mind, I give you Tennessee’s recruiting Class of 2014.
Yes, National Signing Day is still around 10 ½ months away, and a lot can happen before these players sign their National Letter of Intent, but if you ever doubted the effect that momentum can have on a program, pay attention what Tennessee did last week.
On Sunday, March 10th when Todd Kelly Jr. committed to the Vols. He is rated as the 59th best prospect in the nation according to rivals.com, and is projected to play safety at the next level. Todd goes to Webb School, and his father Todd Kelly Sr. was a standout at Tennessee.
But Kelly was a legacy… a local legacy. Getting him to choose Tennessee was important, but not necessarily a surprise.
The next day Neiko Creamer a four-star receiver from Maryland (and another legacy) chose Tennessee as well. Coleman Thomas, a center from Virginia also committed last week. And remember, the first player to say ok to UT was Vic Wharton, a former Knoxville Catholic player that moved to the Nashville area. Those four players alone make up a very promising start for the Class of 2014.
But when running back Jalen Hurd, a five-star running back from Beech High School outside of Nashville sent a simple tweet last Thursday morning, the Big Orange world turned…
“I have officially committed to play football at The University of Tennessee. #VFL #RiseToTheTop”
He’s certainly the biggest recruit to commit to the Vols since Eric Berry.
Two things are becoming clearer and clearer…
One, that new Vols coach Butch Jones is not messing around. In his introductory press conference he talked about the importance of recruiting in the state of Tennessee. He already has three of the biggest recruits in the state, and he’s not done yet.
And two, that former Vols coach Derek Dooley was a horrible recruiter. Just horrible. In his three years at Tennessee how many high school football games did he attend? How many high school coaches did he try to meet in the state?
Just read what Hurd told The Tennessean, “I really wanted to go to UT. Last year, they weren’t in such a good position for me to go there, but with Coach Jones and the new staff, I think it’s the best place for me to go.”
What this means is that if Dooley was still Tennessee’s coach, there is no way in heck he was going to play college football in Knoxville. Well, unless he was wearing Crimson or another visiting team’s jersey.
Jones almost convinced five-star safety Vonn Bell to choose the Vols, despite only having two months to get to know him. Bell grew up a Tennessee fan, but eventually picked Urban Meyer and Ohio State.
If Jones had another few weeks, you have to wonder if he could have gotten Bell. Imagine a defensive backfield with Kelly and Bell? But alas, it was not to be.
Kelly and Hurd are now acting as an extension of the Vols recruiting staff, tweeting at fellow seniors to be about Tennessee’s football program.
So much has been made in recent years about wanting people associated with the program that “want to be here.” Phillip Fulmer wanted to be here and was fired. Lane Kiffin didn’t want to be here and quit. Top recruits didn’t want to be here.
But now it looks like there is a coach in place that is excited to do his job, and recruits fired up to be part of a program on the rise.
Is the sun finally getting ready to shine on Tennessee?