1st Dooley Volunteer class is a doozie
Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 2:22 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Derek Dooley appeared to have a daunting task when he was hired at Tennessee 19 days before national signing day.
Turns out, selling the Volunteers’ program to recruits wasn’t that difficult for him.
“I’m still trying to find out if there’s anything wrong with this place,” Dooley joked on Wednesday. “What’s not to sell?”
Tennessee also added more than just a new signing class on Wednesday. Coach Derek Dooley also announced he’s hired Boise State defensive coordidnator Justin Wilcox for the same post with the Volunteers.
Seventeen prospects signed with Tennessee on Wednesday to join eight others who enrolled in January to form Dooley’s 2010 recruiting class. The class included Rivals.com and Scout.com five-star wide receiver, Da’Rick Rogers, and offensive lineman James Stone, one of the top prospects from the state of Tennessee.
“The university has so much to sell, so it wasn’t as hard as people think to go out there and convince some of these young men to come to Tennessee,” Dooley said. “It was just a matter of getting out there in front of them.”
The class was ranked as high as sixth in the nation by Rivals at the beginning of the year, but dropped to the low teens after former coach Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California on Jan. 12.
On Wednesday night, the class was rated ninth in the nation by Rivals and 15th by Scout.
“They’ve really grabbed some big names and stole some big names, led by Da’rick Rogers,” Rivals southeast recruiting analyst Barton Simmons said. “I think all in all, particularly considering where they sat when they were hired, you really can’t say enough about this class.”
Kiffin’s departure left the program “in a little bit of a fragile state,” said Dooley, who immediately went to work assuring the midterm signees of their future with Tennessee. Their decision to remain with the Vols sent a message of stability to other recruits, he said.
Rogers, a standout from Calhoun, Ga., was committed to Georgia before Dooley came calling. Dooley signed his teammate, quarterback Nash Nance, in what was perceived as a package deal.
Nashville’s Stone had his eye on both Alabama and Tennessee but knew he didn’t want to play for Kiffin.
“Tennessee didn’t seem like a place where I would feel comfortable (under Kiffin), but now I feel like I will be comfortable with the leadership and I’ll be able to really grow as a person,” Stone told The Tennessean newspaper.
Dooley couldn’t hang on to at least two other celebrated recruits, five-star wide receiver Markeith Ambles, who followed Kiffin to USC, or defensive end J.C. Copeland, who signed with LSU.
Simmons said Rogers’ commitment would keep the Vols from missing Ambles, though Tennessee still has a glaring need at defensive line.
Rogers is one of four wide receivers who will join the team, bolstering a position that had lost some of its luster in recent years at a school known as “Wide Receiver U” in the 1980s.
And after a season with limited options at quarterback, the Vols now have a variety of choices with Nance joining midterm enrollees Tyler Bray and Matt Simms.
On the coaching front, Wilcox, 33, has spent the last four seasons at Boise State, leading the Western Athletic Conference in total defense and scoring defense each year and compiling a 49-4 overall record.
The Broncos were 14th nationally in total defense last season, as they went 14-0 and beat TCU in the Fiesta Bowl.
“After talking with coach Dooley and a couple of the other coaches and getting a feel for the way he wants to model the program and a lot of the philosophies he has, I just felt like it was a great opportunity at an unbelievable place in terms of the tradition,” Wilcox said in a statement.
Wilcox succeeds longtime NFL coordinator Monte Kiffin, who followed his son, former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, to Southern California. He joins fellow defensive assistants Lance Thompson and Terry Joseph.