Mar 17, 2013; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick (left) meets Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Butch Jones (middle) and his son Alex Jones before the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee Football Recruiting: Legacies Fuel Hot Start For Butch Jones

When five-star running back Jalen Hurd made his commitment to the University of Tennessee publicly via his Twitter account on Thursday, the news sent shockwaves through the college football world. It was the Vols fourth commitment in five days, as Tennessee football recruiting has seen a spike recently with new head coach Butch Jones kicking off his first spring at the helm in Knoxville.

Still nearly a year away from National Signing Day, the Vols are out to a blistering start securing six commitments in total, including three commitments from Tennessee legacies that are helping drive UT’s recent recruiting momentum. And with recruiting being the only real question mark surrounding Butch Jones’ arrival in Knoxville, the quick start has done a lot to silence those who questioned the hire to begin with.

And while six verbal commitments 10 1/2 months before NSD doesn’t make Jones an instant success on Rocky Top, this class sets up well to be a cornerstone of the rebuilding project in Tennessee. It set up that way from the get-go.

The Class of 2014, for whatever reason, appears to be the class of the Vols. Several big name prospects are children (or close relatives) of former Tennessee Volunteers stars, including current commitments Vic Wharton, Todd Kelly, Jr. and Neiko Creamer, and several more Vol legacies are seriously considering Tennessee.

Evan and Elliott Berry, sons of James and brother of current Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowler Eric Berry, are both interested in Tennessee and so is Dillon Bates, son of Bill Bates, a former All-American linebacker from the Johnny Majors era. All told, the Vols could wind up with close to 10 prospects in this recruiting class with ties to the university, and that history is helping this class to shape up to be one of the tightest knit groups to come through Knoxville in quite some time.

And not only is it a great year for legacies, it also happens to be one of the deepest years we’ve seen in the state of Tennessee in quite some time, and the early success of Jones on the recruiting trail is parlaying into success within the state’s borders, as well. Commitments from Kelly, Jr. and Hurd give the Vols early pledges from the two top players in the state and Vic Wharton is also one of the five best in the state in 2014.

All in all, Tennessee football recruiting is off to a hot start, and while Jones deserves plenty of credit for creating the family atmosphere that most have cited as the source of this class’ adoration of Tennessee, what’s been truly incredible has been how actively the current commits and even outgoing players have participated in recruiting. Wharton was the first player to make his commitment on Christmas Day of last year, having already established a relationship with Butch Jones when he was at Cincinnati, and Wharton along with Kelly, Jr., who pulled the trigger on March 9 have been Tennessee’s most active recruiters.

And not only are incoming players taking it upon themselves to help cement this class as a point of pride for Vols fans, even fifth-year senior Byron Moore has taken it upon himself to recruit for the Vols. And that’s despite the fact that Moore will never actually get to enjoy the spoils of the recruiting class’ success because he’s out of eligibility after this season.

The fact that Moore has taken it upon himself to help bring UT back to prominence is a good sign that Butch Jones has gone a long way towards winning over his current roster. The Vols have established an identity in Butch’s first few months in Knoxville as Team 117, the 117th team to ever lace them up in Knoxville.

It was a staple of Jones’ family-building process at Cincinnati, and it’s helped him bond with his first squad in Tennessee. Four practices into his first spring, the general consensus is that the program has been revitalized under Butch Jones.

Now, that’s not to say that Jones will have immediate success out of the gates this fall. The Vols have many obvious obstacles to overcome, specifically on defense and at the skill positions offensively after being ravaged by the early entries of Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Bray. The Vols also happen to play a brutal schedule with a trip to Oregon on the slate in addition to the typical struggles that come with playing in the SEC.

No, six commitments doesn’t mean that the Vols are back or that Butch Jones will simply turn this thing around. But it’s a damn good start, and if the Vols can close out this class with the same type of fervor that they started with, the Class of 2014 could be the turning point for the Tennessee Volunteers in this rebuilding process.

And, with so many prospects who have historical ties to the University of Tennessee, you can expect this recruiting class to be a point of pride in East Tennessee for years to come.

Tags: Butch Jones College Football Recruiting Jalen Hurd

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