Times Free Press Area Top 20 Junior Prospects
(In alphabetical order)
Vonn Bell Ridgeland 6-1, 180 FS
Malik Brewer Boyd-Buchanan 6-4, 320 OG-DT
Darrell Bridges Ridgeland 6-0, 190 RB-DB
Tyshaun Clemmons Gordon Central 6-2, 180 WR
Robert Cobb Central 5-9, 175 RB-DB
Cesar Diaz North Jackson 5-9, 170 K
Will Erwin Dalton 6-4, 240 TE
Derrick Green Baylor 6-1, 315 OG
Demetric Johnson South Pittsburg 6-1, 185 Ath-DB
Jamal Jones Lookout Valley 5-10, 185 RB
Colton Jumper Baylor 6-2, 220 LB
Taylor Lamb Calhoun 6-1, 185 QB
Reese Phillips Signal Mountain 6-3, 215 QB
Jacob Revis Rhea County 6-2, 280 OL
Francisco Rodriguez East Hamilton 6-0, 230 DL
Austin Sanders Bradley Central 6-6, 295 OL
Reggie Upshaw Baylor 6-6, 205 WR
Brandon Walters Howard 6-8, 275 OL
Eric Wolfe McCallie 6-2, 200 LB
William Womack Brainerd 6-1, 200 LB/S
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — For as long as he can remember, Austin Sanders has sat in the Neyland Stadium stands next to his dad on fall Saturdays. Packed into the bleachers, trying to keep his thick legs from pushing into the backs of the people sitting in front of him, Sanders daydreamed what it would be like to wear the orange University of Tennessee uniform and run through the "T."
Bradley Central's punishing offensive lineman won't have to wonder much longer. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound junior was Tennessee's first commitment for the 2013 signing class and is eager to make it official and join Derek Dooley's roster a year from now.
"I grew up watching them and pulling for them my whole life, so I'm really excited to get up there," Sanders said. "I was set on Tennessee once they offered, and after meeting the coaches I believe in what Coach Dooley is building and I can't wait to be a part of it.
"It's close to home so my family can come watch me, and I was telling my dad just the other day that I never dreamed I would get to play on that field."
While fewer than 10 Chattanooga-area players are expected to sign with FBS programs today, Sanders is part of one of the deepest area talent pools for juniors in recent years. The list also includes Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell, who already has an offer from Georgia; Signal Mountain quarterback Reese Phillips, rated one of the state's top overall recruits; and Baylor receiver Reggie Upshaw, who at 6-6 and 205 is quickly moving up the recruiting charts.
Along with Sanders, at least three other area offensive linemen -- Howard's Brandon Walters (6-8, 275), Rhea County's Jacob Revis (6-2, 280) and Boyd-Buchanan's Malik Brewer (6-4, 320) -- also will be heavily sought.
Sanders had an impressive showing at the Under Armour junior combine last month and was regarded by some online scouts as one of the top overall linemen at the camp. Last season he had 40 pancake blocks and did not allow a sack, helping the Bears amass more than 4,300 total yards. Most of their 2,300-plus rushing yards were gained running behind Sanders.
"He's the strongest kid I've ever coached or been around," said Bears coach Damon Floyd, who added that he won't let Sanders max-out in the weight room just yet. "He bench-presses 350 easily and could squat more than 405 pounds, but we won't let him do more than that. There's no need right now.
"We haven't played anybody that can handle him at this level. He dominates and just pushes people around pretty easily. And when he gets to the next level, he's got great knee-bend technique. He can get down and move laterally really well for a kid his size."
Floyd sent a highlight DVD of receiver James Stovall to UT last spring. After watching just three plays, Floyd said, Volunteers coaches stopped the DVD and called to ask about Sanders.
UT isn't expected to sign an offensive lineman today, after having signed five in 2011 and redshirting three of those this past season. Floyd said shortly after Sam Pittman was named the Vols' new offensive line coach, he contacted Sanders and the two have built a solid relationship already.
Sanders will become the first Chattanooga-area player to sign with UT since the trio of Ooltewah's Jacques Smith and Calhoun's Da'Rick Rogers and Nash Nance in 2010.
"I go up there to hang out with some of the guys already playing, just to get to know them and learn from the linemen as much as I can," Sanders said. "Since about my sophomore year I've felt confident that I can whip the guy in front of me, and that's the kind of attitude I want to take to Tennessee.
"I'm pretty laid back until I get on the field, and then something just clicks and its full-on aggression."
For many high school players, making a verbal commitment does not end their courtship with other programs, but Sanders said he is treating his pledge the same as if he had if he had already signed with UT. Floyd said he receives calls or letters on a daily basis from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, USC, UCLA, Mississippi State and Kentucky, among others, but has been asked by Sanders to make it clear he isn't interested in visiting or even talking with other coaches.
"He told me to tell coaches from other schools that he doesn't want to be disrespectful and waste their time, so not to even bother calling or coming by to talk to him," Floyd said. "Austin has every reason to be cocky, but he's actually very humble. He doesn't care about the limelight. He just comes in and works every day in the weight room and is a great example of how to protect your team on the field and handle success off it."
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 ...