published Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Bell, Lawson head big prospects Vols still wooing

University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones.
University of Tennessee head football coach Butch Jones.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The recruiting finish line is in sight, and there's been one question rattling around in the orange-hued minds of many Tennessee fans.

How will Tennessee look when it gets there?

Butch Jones will pull in his first class as the Volunteers' coach Wednesday, national signing day, and Tennessee has positioned itself to be a factor for two five-star prospects and other big-name recruits.

"I think it's a great sign that the Vols have gotten these kids on campus, because that's a key," Scout analyst Jamie Newberg said this week. "They've been able to attract some guys. Vols fans may be disappointed because they want these big names who are left and may not get any, but I think moving forward that we've seen some good signs."

The two biggest names left out there for Tennessee are Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton High School defensive end Carl Lawson and Ridgeland safety Vonn Bell.

The Vols got into the mix with Lawson, who committed to Auburn last March and is visiting the Tigers this weekend, when he made his official visit to Knoxville two weeks ago.

Bell took trips to his three finalists -- Ohio State, Alabama and Tennessee -- the past three weekends and hosted assistant coaches from the Buckeyes and Crimson Tide on Thursday. Jones and some of his staff met with Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis that day since the Vols already had used their six allotted visits with Bell.

The Vols have been playing catch-up with the longtime Tennessee fan since Jones' arrival in early December.

Lawson and Bell are scheduled to announce their decisions Wednesday morning at 9:05 and 10:05, respectively, and ESPNU will carry both announcements live during its signing day coverage.

"They've got a wonderful shot at Vonn Bell," Newberg said. "We had him on our show this week, and he spoke very favorably of Tennessee, Ohio State and Alabama. We all know Tennessee is his childhood dream, so he is obviously a key guy.

"He's a guy who grew up wanting to go there, and those are the guys you've got to get."

Tennessee remains in the mix also for New Hope (Ala.) tailback Johnathan Ford, Chamblee (Ga.) defensive end Davin Bellamy, Alpharetta dual-threat quarterback Josh Dobbs and Gaffney (S.C.) defensive end Jaylen Miller and hosted three official visitors on the final weekend before signing day.

Committed to Vanderbilt since April, Ford has seen his stock zoom late in the process, as Georgia and Florida State made offers to him this past week after he made official visits to Tennessee and Auburn.

Bellamy, who took an official visit to Oregon this weekend, decommitted from Florida State this past week after taking official visits to Tennessee and Georgia the previous two weekends.

Though he committed to Arizona State in June, Dobbs saw the Vols on last weekend's official visit.

Tennessee's three official visitors this weekend were Woodbridge (Va.) linebacker E.J. Levenberry, a Florida State commitment and U.S. Army All-American; Clairton (Pa.) receiver Tyler Boyd, who committed to Pittsburgh during the U.S. All-American Bowl nearly a month ago; and Syracuse commitment Malik Brown, a defensive end from West Palm Beach (Fla.) Dwyer, where current Tennessee linebacker Curt Maggitt played.

While the Vols got a huge boost this past week with the commitment of four-star receiver MarQuez North, Fresno City College offensive lineman Chongo Kondolo committed to Nebraska on Friday, nearly three weeks after the California junior college prospect took an official trip to Tennessee.

Regardless of Tennessee's finish, signing day is a big early checkpoint for Jones nearly two months to the day after his hiring.

"We'll have to wait and see how everything unfolds," Newberg said. "I always believe that you can't look at a coach's first class and come to any kind of conclusion. It's not fair.

"Coming from Cincinnati to Tennessee is a big change in terms of where you were recruiting before and where you're recruiting now."

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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