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VOL. 38 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 19, 2014

Prep coaches, players sold on Jones the recruiter

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Nothing surprises Murfreesboro Blackman High School football coach Philip Shadowens when it comes to college recruiting.

Shadowens has seen it all – including the flurry of activity created by Blackman senior quarterback and safety Jauan Jennings, rated the No. 18 athlete in the nation by Rivals.com.

Some 150 or so college coaches came by Blackman last winter and spring to visit Jennings, and one was able to get a commitment on April 7, 2014.

Jennings committed to second-year UT coach Butch Jones.

“Obviously we’ve got a great player here that’s being recruited by everybody in the country,” Shadowens says. “Butch really sold himself with his personality, just being a normal guy. He treats the kids with respect, and he really has a dynamic personality, and he does a great job selling the university and the program.”

Jones’ approach appears to be working. UT’s 2015 recruiting class is ranked No. 7 nationally by Rivals behind Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina, Georgia, Texas A&M and Florida State. Behind the Vols are Penn State, Auburn and USC.

The Vols’ highest-rated commitment in the class is 6-foot-4, 340-pound Kahlil McKenzie, son of former UT linebacker and current Oakland Raiders General Manager Reggie McKenzie.

McKenzie becomes the latest “legacy” recruit under Jones, who signed six sons/brothers/nephew of former Vols for the 2014 class. McKenzie is the nation’s No. 2-rated defensive end of the 2015 class and the Vols’ only five-star commitment.

Jennings, 6-3, 180 pounds, is a four-star recruit. The dual-threat, mobile quarterback narrowed his choices to UT, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ohio State and Northwestern before committing to the Vols on April 7.

His stats as a junior were impressive – 1,465 passing yards and 14 touchdowns; 795 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns – and he’s putting up even bigger numbers this year.

On Sept. 12, Jennings completed 9 of 14 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on four carries as Blackman defeated Mt. Juliet 49-21.

UT has one quarterback commitment for the 2015 class: 6-foot-4, 210-pound Quinten Dormady of Boerne (Texas) High School. Dormady has a four-star rating and is rated the nation’s No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the 2015 class. UT also has a pro-style quarterback committed for the 2016 class: Austin Kendall of Waxhaw, N.C., rated No. 4 nationally.

Shadowens is impressed with Jones’ recruiting strategy.

“Being here all my life, I’ve dealt with everybody [coaches] across the country,” says Shadowens, in his sixth year at Blackman after spending the previous 14 years at Smyrna.

“Coach Jones does as good a job as anybody selling the program. He’s just down to earth, funny. Coach Jones just has a great personality, and behind closed doors, he’s the same way. He’s just very articulate and fun to be around.”

Shadowens says other coaches and in this area are also on board with Jones. It’s a far different vibe than that presented by his predecessor at UT, Derek Dooley.

“I know (Jones is) getting it across to the kids and coaches in Middle Tennessee,” Shadowens adds. “He’s making them feel like they’re a part of something. He’s great with the kids and the families.”

That means a lot to Maryville coach George Quarles, a family man himself.

Quarles has enjoyed unparalleled success at Maryville, including 10 state championships in the past 14 seasons.

Knoxville South Doyle running back Jocquez Bruce, a UT commitment for the 2015 class, practices with his team this week in Knoxville.

-- Photo Courtesy Of Wade Payne/Www.Thepurplelens.Com

Not long after Jones was hired as UT’s head coach, on Dec. 7, 2012, he was working the phones and building relationships.

“(Jones) got the job at Tennessee, and I think the next day I got a call from him,” Quarles recalls. “Coach Jones told me it wasn’t a big deal to call if I needed anything.

“If I wanted to sit in on meetings or come by and watch film, I was welcomed to do it, and I believe him. It’s not just lip service. He genuinely cares about football in the state and helping to improve football in the state.”

Jones also made a quick impression on Maryville senior defensive end Dylan Jackson, who hardly hesitated when he got a scholarship offer from UT.

Jackson, 6-4, 244 pounds, gave his verbal commitment to Jones on Jan. 16. His other scholarship offers were largely based on his academic prowess – Vanderbilt, Duke and Northwestern – but Jackson was all in for Jones and UT.

“I’ve only been around (Jones) when he was with Dylan a couple of times, and each time it was very personable,” Quarles says. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, you need to take care of some things.’ You can tell he really cares about Dylan. He knows about him as a player and person.

“That’s why he’s such a great recruiter. He works very hard, and he’s tireless. He made a big impact on Dylan. That’s why Dylan was so quick to commit.”

Jones also made an impact on Quarles with his “infectious personality.”

“He loves visiting with crowds, loves to visit and talk with people around him,” Quarles adds. “He’s called whenever something big happened here (at Maryville), whether it’s us winning a state championship or whatever. Rather than send a text message, he’s called. That’s how he is. For me, that’s got to make you feel good that the top coach in the state cares about the little people like that.”

In the small town of Coalfield, population fewer than 3,000 and about 35 miles west of Knoxville, Jones has created a revival of Big Orange Fever since coming to UT.

Coalfield offensive lineman lineman Zach Stewart was Jones’ first 2015 commitment on April 18, 2013. Clinton athlete Jaylond Woods committed two days later.

Jones and his staff started recruiting Stewart not long after they arrived at UT.

“It was that spring after they first came in,” Coalfield coach Keith Henry explains. “They got wind of Zach and things, and Zach had been to camps and put himself in good position. Coach Jones, Coach [Don] Mahoney and Coach [Mike] Bajakian, all those guys have been super to deal with and to talk to.

“They’ve been in contact from that point on, and it’s really a good atmosphere over there when you go visit and watch practice and [how they] do things over there.

“It’s totally different than it has been in the past. You just really feel welcome, and they do a super job of staying in touch with Zach and us as coaches.”

Despite playing in a small town and Class A football, Stewart is no hidden secret. At 6-4, 320 pounds, he’s a four-star recruit and the nation’s No. 17-rated offensive guard by Rivals.com.

Stewart will be the first Coalfield player to sign a football scholarship at UT, but he won’t be the only Yellow Jacket with the Vols’ next year.

Benson Napier, a 2014 Coalfield graduate and 4.0 student, accepted the chance to be a preferred walk-on with the Vols this year. Henry said the 6-3, 327-pound Napier is having the time of his football life.

“He’s really excited,” Henry says. “He’s just so happy to be there. He says the atmosphere is so good. All the guys are on the same page, and they’re all fighting for the same goal, and the camaraderie is great.

“The older guys help the young players and accept them and work with them, all the way around, as student-athletes. It’s phenomenal.”

For the folks of Coalfield, there is a buzz again about UT football, much like Jones has created across the state.

“It’s really special, and it really gets the program back to what you’re used to and how it was when Coach (Phillip) Fulmer was there,” Henry adds.

“It’s just a totally different atmosphere and excitement, and reaching out and wanting to get the local kids that have the talent to be there.

“That’s the one thing they stress: wanting to have those Tennessee ties.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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