Latest Vol class graded near top
Posted: Thursday, February 3, 2011 4:15 pm
By: By BETH RUCKER, AP Sports Writer
KNOXVILLE (AP) — Tennessee coach Derek Dooley knows he has a small margin of error on the 27 prospects in his 2011 recruiting class.
After a rash of injuries and back-to-back coaching turnovers, the Volunteers’ roster was depleted and undersized, so Dooley wanted to be sure he signed players who could contribute at Tennessee for three or four seasons.
“With where our program is, with numbers that we were working off this year, it was extremely important to me that we bring in a group of guys without a lot of risk of leaving and of not being here,” Dooley said.
He doesn’t appear to be running too much of a risk on talent in the 2011 class, which was rated 10th in the nation by Scout.com and 12th by Rivals.com and included the top two in-state prospects in offensive lineman Antonio Richardson, from Nashville’s Pearl-Cohn High School and tight end Cameron Clear, from Memphis’ Central High School.
Tennessee, which finished the 2010 season 6-7, did not sign a five-star recruit, missing out on highly touted defensive tackle Gabe Wright, who picked Auburn over the Vols. Dooley did manage to stock up on offensive and defensive linemen and defensive backs, positions that especially needed depth during the 2010 season.
The new class includes seven defensive backs, five offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, two running backs, two linebackers, two tight ends, two athletes, a quarterback and a wide receiver.
“Every position I feel like was helped with some quality, size, speed, tough, outstanding players. That’s rare,” Dooley said. “We needed help everywhere because we lacked considerable depth. We had to increase size and speed at every position. A good way to sum us up last year was little and slow. We’re trying to be big and fast. I feel like we did that.”
Seven of the prospects are from the state of Tennessee. Six of the prospects enrolled at Tennessee in January and will take part in the Vols’ spring practices and three prospects are junior college players with three years of eligibility left.
Dooley said he focused especially hard on players’ academics and character and tried to meet with players early in the recruiting process so he could better determine if it would be risky to sign them.
Barton Simmons, a national recruiting analyst for 247sports.com, thinks that approach paid off for the Vols staff.
“Particularly early on the process it seemed to be a real focus for the staff to land character guys, guys that were going to be good teammates,” Simmons said. “I think those guys who committed early allowed them to make a late push for some other guys. The way he approached the class was real impressive, and he hit some home runs late.”
Dooley said he was encouraged by the way prospects who pledged early in the process to sign with Tennessee never wavered in their commitments.
“I think it was the great job our coaching staff did with the relationships but I also think it speaks for the quality of the character of the guys who were committed,” Dooley said. “When they said, ’I’m coming,’ they were men of their word, and I’m going to tell you that means a lot to me.”