March 15th, 2013 09:10 AM║ Posted By: Josh Ward ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Tags: Auburn, Butch Jones, Georgia, Rivals, SEC, Todd Kelly Jr, Vonn Bell
The Vols had just finished their third straight losing season and fourth in the last five years. At the same time, Tennessee’s 2013 class was hanging around the bottom half of the SEC while its top rivals in the league were preparing to bring in more championship-caliber players.
So it’s no surprise Jones and his staff made the 2014 class a priority before the 2013 class was even signed.
“Recruiting is a relationship business, and you’re trying to work as fast as you can to build those relationships,” Jones said on signing day on Feb. 6.
Jones has had to work even harder because of the damaged relationships between in-state high schools and the previous coaching staff at Tennessee, led by former head coach Derek Dooley.
The Vols failed to sign one of the top five players in the state in 2013. Top-rated prospect Jalen Ramsey (Florida State signee) from Brentwood visited Tennessee but never strongly considered the Vols. Chattanooga safety Vonn Bell signed with Ohio State because Dooley didn’t built a relationship with Bell, according to his father.
Other Tennessee high school coaches claim to have never met Dooley. But they’ve met Jones, and his effort appears to be paying off.
Tennessee received commitments from Webb School of Knoxville safety Todd Kelly Jr. on Sunday and followed that up on Thursday with a pledge from Beech (Hendersonville) High School running back Jalen Hurd, the state’s top-ranked player and the No. 15 overall prospect for the 2014 class, according to Rivals.
Both Hurd and Kelly took closer looks at Tennessee, which has five commitments for 2014, after the coaching change. In fact, the Vols were barely on Hurd’s radar less than four months ago.
“I didn’t have much of a relationship with Coach Dooley or his staff,” Hurd told the Chattanooga Times Free-Press in November.
Jones made sure that changed, letting Hurd know he was a priority shortly after taking over at Tennessee. Another boost for the Vols came on Christmas Day when athlete Vic Wharton from Independence High School in Nashville, Tenn., became Tennessee’s first commitment for the 2014 class.
Wharton has since focused on spreading the word about Tennessee to recruits throughout the state and nation. He’s done so with his twitter account, which is filled with messages promoting the program.
— Victor LaRoy Wharton (@VWharton5) March 15, 2013
Hurd and Kelly have gotten into the mix as well. Kelly said Monday he would call several prospects to help recruit them to Tennessee. Hurd was one of them.
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