published Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Tennessee, Kentucky compiling top SEC surprise classes

With one week remaining until college football's national signing day, there is still time for a surprise decision or two among the nation's top prep prospects.

The surprise teams in Southeastern Conference recruiting, however, have been known for months.

"Without question, it's Tennessee and Kentucky, and their situations are very similar," ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. "When you go back to when Butch Jones was hired at Tennessee and Mark Stoops was hired at Kentucky, they had to close fast. They had to hire a staff, get kids on campus and build relationships with prospects that they had not recruited in the previous 15 to 18 months.

"Then, all of a sudden, they started laying the groundwork and the foundation and the blueprint. They had a full calendar year, so those staffs have been able to settle in a little bit, not be involved in such a rat race and have been able to recruit over the long haul."

ESPN has seven SEC schools ranked among its top-10 classes, with Alabama leading the way and followed by Texas A&M, Florida State, LSU, Tennessee, Ohio State, Florida, Miami, Auburn and Georgia.

Tennessee's class of early enrollees and commitments entered today also ranked No. 2 by Scout.com, No. 4 by Rivals.com and No. 6 by 247Sports.com. Kentucky's class is ranked 13th by Rivals.com, 19th by ESPN, 21st by Scout.com and 23rd by 247Sports.com.

The Volunteers and Wildcats have assembled these classes despite going a combined 3-29 the past two seasons in SEC play, which includes Tennessee's two thumpings of Kentucky.

"What Tennessee and Kentucky have done a great job of is being forthright and honest with prospects going back to last spring about what the fall could hold," said Luginbill, a recent guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM. "They told prospects straight up that they were going to struggle, and they told these recruits to hang with them and that they could be the start of something special. By and large with both programs, that has resonated.

"Kentucky had an abysmal year on the field and Tennessee showed some flashes but didn't quite reach its goal of a bowl game, but the prospects stuck with them."

Tennessee, which owns a rich tradition on the field as well as in recruiting, has 17 enrollees or commitments who are four- or five-star prospects according to Rivals.com, with running back Derrell Scott of Havelock, N.C., becoming the 17th on Monday. That number matches Tennessee's 2005 signing class, which contained quarterback Jonathan Crompton, tailback Montario Hardesty and former Tyner High defensive tackle Demonte Bolden, and is surpassed only by the 2002 class.

There were 21 four- or five-star Rivals.com prospects in Tennessee's 25-member class of '02, which was headed by quarterback James Banks, offensive lineman Brandon Jeffries, defensive ends Mondre Dickerson and Jonathan Mapu, and former Red Bank tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. Tennessee's '02 class was ranked second nationally behind Texas, which landed quarterback Vince Young and offensive lineman Justin Blalock.

"If you look at Tennessee's media guide last year, on the cover was a full-uniformed Tennessee player but with no face behind the facemask," Luginbill said. "I think that was done on purpose, and I think it was done to tell prospects that their face coming forward is going to be that face behind the facemask."

Kentucky has 10 four-star prospects, matching the total of the past six Wildcats signing classes. The Wildcats compiled just 17 four-star prospects in the first 12 years Rivals.com provided player rankings, with quarterback Andre Woodson (2003) and receiver Chris Matthews ('09) being among the more notable.

The Wildcats are battling Alabama for defensive tackle Matt Elam of Elizabethtown, Ky., who has scheduled an announcement for Thursday.

Georgia picks up 18th

Georgia received its 18th commitment this week, picking up a nonbinding pledge from cornerback Dominick Sanders (6-0, 187) of Tucker High in Atlanta. Sanders is a three-star prospect according to Rivals.com and is the younger brother of Chris Sanders, who signed with the Bulldogs in 2011 as part of the "Dream Team" class.

The older Sanders was dismissed from Georgia in the winter of 2012 and enrolled at Georgia Military College but was dismissed from there as well. He then went to Eastern Arizona Junior College before recently signing and enrolling at Baylor University.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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