published Saturday, May 19th, 2012

UT recruiting on track despite turnover

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley instructs his team during spring NCAA college football practice.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley instructs his team during spring NCAA college football practice.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TENNESSEE'S 2013 FOOTBALL COMMITMENTS

Tennessee entered July of 2011 with just two commitments for 2012, and neither signed with the Volunteers in February. The Vols have six commitments for 2013 despite having lost highly touted Florida cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who had pledged to UT in January without having set foot on campus.

DE'VONDRE CAMPBELL

Position: Linebacker

Measurables: 6-5, 215

School: Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College

Skinny: The Vols went back to the same school that brought them blue-chip receiver Cordarrelle Patterson and administrative intern Brandon Staley, who coached at Hutchinson. The Florida native redshirted last season and could enroll at UT in January; he pledged earlier this month.

JASON CARR

Position: Defensive end

Measurables: 6-6, 280

School: Memphis White Station

Skinny: Carr's stock has continued to rise since he committed in late January, and he has scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida, LSU and Southern Cal, among others. A four-star prospect according to Rivals.com, Carr has continued to add weight this spring.

CAMION PATRICK

Position: Wide receiver

Measurables: 6-2, 200

School: Lenoir City

Skinny: The Knoxville-area prospect has been on the recruiting radar since he made waves with his playmaking ability as a freshman at Clinton High. After Patrick committed to UT in late January, the 247Sports four-star prospect got scholarship offers from Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss.

AUSTIN SANDERS

Position: Offensive lineman

Measurables: 6-5, 300

School: Bradley Central

Skinny: The class's first commitment has been rock-solid and a fixture as an on-campus visitor. Sanders is one of Rivals.com's top 250 players nationally, and 247Sports rates him as the No. 6 player in a strong class in Tennessee. After the Vols went without a lineman in their 2012 class, Sanders is a solid start to what will need to be a solid linemen group signing in 2013.

COREY VEREEN

Position: Linebacker

Measurables: 6-2, 237

School: Winter Garden (Fla.) West Orange

Skinny: Vereen is an outside linebacker prospect who pledged to UT in March during an unofficial visit to campus. Rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com and 247Sports, Vereen had scholarship offers from Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and South Florida and was receiving interest from Florida State.

DOMINIC ZANCA

Position: Linebacker

Measurables: 6-2, 230

School: Altamonte Springs (Fla.) Lake Brantley

Skinny: Zanca fits the mold of an under-the-radar prospect. The Vols were in on the three-star prospect before any other major program, and he committed during his unofficial visit the day before UT's spring game. Like Vereen, Zanca is from the Orlando area.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Tennessee's football coaches felt early last fall that they had finally caught up and gotten back on track with their recruiting efforts.

Then came a tough season and seven more bumps in the road.

Yet head coach Derek Dooley insists the Volunteers hardly have skipped a beat despite heavy turnover on his staff, and one resource in particular has proved to be very valuable.

"I haven't seen [disruption] at all," Dooley said Tuesday during the Big Orange Caravan's stop in Johnson City. "In fact, I think -- I know we are -- we're further along from a relationship standpoint, from an offer standpoint, from a communication standpoint than we've been since I've gotten here. That's because it just takes time.

"It takes time to really get settled into an area. I feel like we're on the right course with everybody else as far as building the relationships, knowing who the prospects are, identifying them and getting them to campus."

After arriving at UT so late in the process in 2010, Dooley and his staff spent two years playing catch-up. Most programs begin evaluating prospects when they are 10th-graders, and the process for some recruits is in high gear by their junior years.

Some coaches were openly confident last season that the Vols had caught up in the process beginning with the 2013 class. Prospects were making unofficial visits to campus, which is a primary goal for most programs. After seven coaches left the program in the offseason, though, some of that early momentum was likely to encounter hiccups.

When UT's new assistants arrived, however, most of the groundwork was in place.

"You just catch up, but we had a database and a resource that they could draw on," Dooley said. "I didn't have that when I got here, so we had to start from scratch. We had everything laid out for them, and it was just pick up the sheets and go."

Even beyond that particular resource, Dooley has made institutionalizing how the program recruits as one of its priorities.

"I think it's important your recruiting office is not tied to coaches," he explained. "That's something that we've tried to structure because it's a transient profession and you can't get held hostage by a coach. In other words, if he leaves, [you can't have] your whole recruiting thing get disrupted.

"We've been very careful to try to build a Tennessee recruiting office that allows us to manage the prospects, the database, the information no matter who comes and goes on the coaching staff, and I think that's important."

It's helped, too, that some of Dooley's new assistants have respected reputations as recruiters. Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri was 247Sports' 2011 recruiter of the year while at Alabama, offensive line coach Sam Pittman was named one of the nation's top 25 recruiters by ESPN and Jay Graham had success at South Carolina. Receivers coach Darin Hinshaw, one of the staff's two holdovers, has developed into a valuable recruiter and added the title of recruiting coordinator.

While the new coaches were getting better acquainted with the Vols players during spring practice, they also were hosting dozens of unofficial visitors.

"I know we've done an inordinate amount of film watching," Dooley said. "We have a very systematic evaluation procedure: I watch every player and we make a decision. We continue to evaluate from that point on.

"What's helped us this year is we were further along. Every year you're playing catch-up, and we weren't playing catch-up this year. That means I watched a lot of guys over the course of the summer and the fall for the next year, so when we turned the page in December, we were able to get on it pretty quickly."

Dooley and his staff know, though, that a solid start can be undone by another disappointing season on the field.

"Tennessee still sells," he said. "It's still attractive. The biggest thing we've got to do now is do our part on the football field and generate some better results."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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