Vols finding recruiting success with local prospects

Friday, July 12, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 28
By Rhiannon Potkey

Most Maryville residents would have been happy for Tee Hodge no matter where he decided to play football in college.

But there was even more celebration when Hodge, a rising senior running back at Maryville High, committed to the University of Tennessee.

“There is just something special about a local kid getting to play for Tennessee,” Maryville High head coach Derek Hunt says. “It doesn’t happen very often here at Maryville, and it just makes us so proud when it does because there are a whole lot of Volunteer fans in this area.”

Keeping the state’s top players at home is a goal of every major college program, and Tennessee is no different.

Hodge, the nephew of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and Alcoa native Randall Cobb, is among a slew of local commitments for the Vols in recent weeks.

A big get was four-star offensive lineman Cooper Mays out of Knoxville Catholic High. Mays’ father, Kevin, was an all-SEC guard and team captain at Tennessee. But his older brother, Cade, chose Georgia, where he is a rising sophomore offensive linemen.

The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Mays is ranked as the No. 5 center in the nation and the No. 10 overall prospect in the state for the class of 2020 by 247Sports.

The Vols also received commitments from four-star safety Keshawn Lawrence of Nashville and Knoxville athlete Elijah Howard.

Lawrence is ranked as No. 3 safety in the nation and the No. 2 player in the state for the 2020 class. The Ensworth High product made an official visit to Miami before committing to the Vols.

In a video announcement posted on Twitter, Lawrence unzipped his jacket showing a Miami shirt. But he eventually took off the Miami shirt to reveal an orange Tennessee shirt.

“For the next four years, I will continue to stay home, baby,” Lawrence said as his Ensworth teammates in the video all took off their shirts to show UT shirts. “Let’s go Vols.”

It’s been reported that Howard, a Knoxville native, is transferring from Webb School of Knoxville to Baylor in Chattanooga. He’s rated as the No. 23 prospect in the state for the 2021 class.

Tennessee was one of the first Power 5 conference schools to offer Hodge. Hunt was at a UT camp with Hodge when he received the offer from the Vols.

“They were on him early and made Tee a priority in his class and recruited him very hard,” Hunt explains. “I think as it went along Tee had over 20 offers, and I think it became more and more evident Tennessee was the frontrunner. He just built a good rapport with that coaching staff.”

The 6-foot, 230-pound Hodge rushed for 805 yards and 19 touchdowns on 131 carries as a junior before his season was cut short in the playoffs by injury. He also caught 17 passes for 175 yards.

“He is chiseled at his size. He doesn’t have much fat on him. He is just a rare combination of size and athleticism,” Hunt says.

“When colleges look at Tee, they see a running back who can play all four downs. He can block and catch balls out of the backfield and is a fantastic downhill runner. He’s a very powerful runner.”

Hodge broke his tibia during the quarterfinals of last year’s playoffs, but made a swift recovery and is back on the field.

“He was 100 percent by the time we got back to spring practice. He went through spring practice full go and looked great and he hasn’t really looked back,” Hunt says. “That to me just speaks to how Tee is. He is very clued into his body and really takes care of himself and his health.”

Being able to follow Hodge’s college career only a few miles down the road is something everyone in Maryville is greatly anticipating.

“To get to watch a kid play for the Vols in any sport is special for this community,” Hunt points out.

“We are excited, and our coaching staff is just honored to get to coach Tee for one more year before he begins playing for Tennessee.”