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Although the University of Tennessee football coaches already had used up their allotted six visits with Ridgeland High School All-America safety Vonn Bell, the new staff continued to find a way to impress those who will help in the decision-making process.
New Volunteers head coach Butch Jones, defensive coordinator John Jancek and defensive assistant Willie Martinez visited with Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis for several hours Thursday evening.
And while the UT coaching trio clearly were there to continue recruiting Bell, they also helped build a relationship that could pay off in the future with a program that routinely produces Southeastern Conference level prospects.
“We really have never had a coach from any of the previous UT staffs come by to speak to us or try to build a relationship before,” Mariakis said. “I was highly impressed that those guys would take time out of their schedule, during such a busy time for them, to just talk with me. This was the first time I had met Coach Jones and he comes across as incredibly humble and genuine. I think he has a genuine care and concern for UTK, and I believe he has a well-thought-out plan for the program’s future.
“From talking to him, I think Coach Jones and I are very like-minded in how we want to deal with kids. I was very impressed with that also. He mostly talked about the overall program and how he would accomplish that. Of course we talked about Vonn, but we really talked about a lot of other things. I was humbled that the three of them would spend that much time at my house.”
Jones arrived alone at Mariakis’ home and spent about 30 minutes going over his plan for the program and his style of coaching. The two assistants showed up later, and each spent about two hours there before leaving to fly to Alabama for an in-home visit with another recruit.
With national signing day next Wednesday, the rush of coaches trying to sway Bell, a five-star prospect according to several national recruiting services, reached its peak. Coaches from all three of Bell’s finalists — Alabama and Ohio State as well as Tennessee — were in town Thursday to make final pitches for his signature.
The Bell family had informed all three programs that Thursday would be the final day they would meet with any coaches. The family and Mariakis will spend this weekend discussing the options before reaching a decision.
College coaches are not allowed to have contact with recruits after this weekend, giving prospects a three-day period of silence to make their decisions before Wednesday morning.
Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers was at Ridgeland on Thursday morning and left campus to meet with Bell’s father, Vincent, at his job. Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and new defensive backs coach Greg Brown were on campus Thursday afternoon to meet with Bell.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...