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VOL. 39 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 16, 2015

Big hit and some misses from 2014 early enrollees

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Tennessee’s Von Pearson, left, pulls in a touchdown pass during the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl NCAA college football game against Iowa. Pearson was rated the No. 2 junior college receiver before arriving at Tennessee last winter.

-- Ap Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Bob Self

KNOXVILLE – Recruiting is anything but an exact science. Experts are everywhere. Star ratings rise and fall. Player projections are widely varied.

One thing is certain: Only time will tell if coaches hit or miss on a recruit.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at Tennessee’s 14 mid-year enrollees from January of 2014, and see what part they played in the Vols’ 7-6 season, which ended with a Jan. 2 victory over Iowa in the TaxSlayer Bowl.

And next week we’ll take a glimpse of UT’s 10 mid-year enrollees for spring of 2015. They’re already on campus and getting a jump on the other 18 commitments for the Vols’ 2015 class, which is ranked in the top five nationally.

Here are the 2014 mid-year enrollees, height and weight when first enrolled, and a quote from the player’s UT position coach when signed:

Dontavius Blair, junior, OL, 6-8, 300, Garden City (Kan.) Community College, Anniston (Ala.) High School: The four-star offensive tackle was not able to break into the offensive line rotation and was redshirted. That certainly wasn’t the plan when he enrolled in January of 2014, went through spring practices, and entered fall with plans to at least provide depth. Blair needs to make an impact in 2015, and the Vols could use him at one of the tackle spots.

Neiko Creamer, freshman, 6-3, 223, WR/ATH, Eastern Christian Academy (Md.), Wilmington, Del.: The son of former Vol defensive back Andre Creamer (1984-87), he was listed as a wide receiver/athlete/tight end during his recruitment, was signed as an athlete, and switched to linebacker in summer. By fall camp, Creamer was working at tight end, and took a redshirt season to gain weight. With wide receiver skills, Creamer could be a skilled pass catcher at tight end.

Daniel Helm, freshman, 6-4, 225, TE, Glenwood High School, Chatham, Ill.: Helm, a consensus four-star recruit when signed by UT, played in all 12 regular-season games with two starts and had six catches for 37 yards. In mid-December, Helm decided to transfer, and on Dec. 30, Duke Coach David Cutcliffe announced Helm was transferring to his program. Perhaps Helm saw a logjam at the position with a big 2014 season by fellow freshman Ethan Wolf and Creamer’s move to the position.

Jalen Hurd, freshman, 6-3, 227, RB, Beech High School, Hendersonville: Hurd arrived at UT as a four- and five-star running back and certainly played up to the billing. In the 2014 Orange and White game last spring, Hurd was the game’s leading rusher with 66 yards on 11 carries and caught a 27-yard pass. His performance carried over into fall when Hurd led the Vols in rushing with 899 yards, scored five rushing touchdowns, averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and had 35 catches for 221 yards and two TDs. After rushing for 122 yards and two TDs in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Hurd returns as the No. 1 running back.

Jakob Johnson, freshman, 6-4, 240, LB, Jean Ribault High School, Jacksonville, Fla., Stuttgart, Germany: Born in Stuttgart, Germany, Johnson played one season of high school football in 2013 after moving to the U.S. in 2012. The three-star recruit played in 12 games (14 tackles) as a backup before assuming a huge role for two starts after the dismissal of starting middle linebacker A.J. Johnson. He had two solo tackles in the TaxSlayer Bowl, and will be pushed to hold down the starting job this spring and in 2015.

Josh Malone, freshman, 6-3, 195, WR, Station Camp High School, Gallatin: Malone arrived at UT with lofty ratings – the nation’s No. 2 wide receiver by Rivals and a five-star recruit – and despite playing all 13 games with six starts, probably didn’t play up to his (and other’s) expectations. Malone didn’t reveal until after the regular season that he was bothered by various ailments, including a groin injury. He only had four catches for 22 yards in the last five games. He still tied for fourth on the team in catches (23) for 231 yards and one touchdown.

Dimarya Mixon, freshman, 6-3, 263, DE, West Mesquite (Texas) High School: Mixon, native of Compton, Calif., originally signed with Nebraska out of high school in 2013, but never got past the NCAA Clearinghouse to play there. Instead of going to junior college, Mixon stayed out of school – he worked at a burger joint – and went back through the recruiting process. Although recruited by Nebraska as a defensive end, Mixon moved to defensive tackle last spring for the Vols after adding some weight. He played in 12 games (four tackles) and ended the year No. 2 on the depth chart at tackle behind senior Jordan Williams.

Von Pearson, junior, 6-3, 185, WR, Feather River (Calif.) College, Denbigh High School, Newport News, Va.: Pearson played his best game of the year in the TaxSlayer Bowl – seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown – and enters the spring as one of the Vols’ top receivers. He was second on the team in catches (38), second in receiving yards (393) and tops in TD catches (five) despite missing two games (Oklahoma and Georgia) with an ankle injury. Rated the No. 2 wide JUCO wide receiver by ESPN and 247Sports, Pearson played like it.

Emmanuel Moseley, freshman, 5-11, 165, DB, Dudley High School, Greensboro, N.C.: Moseley, also a quarterback in high school, added 13 pounds by season’s start and spent most of the time as the backup cornerback behind Cameron Sutton. It was a solid first season for Moseley, who got starts against Kentucky and Missouri and finished with 18 tackles, two tackles for loss, and six pass break-ups. Moseley figures into the Vols’ secondary plans, but again, will have competition for a starting job.

D’Andre Payne, freshman, 5-9, 176, DB, H.D. Woodson High School, Washington, D.C.: Payne, a multi-purpose player in high school, arrived at UT as a consensus four-star recruit and the No. 22 cornerback in the 2014 class, but his career with the Vols lasted one season. UT coach Butch Jones announced before the Vols’ first bowl practice Payne would transfer. He played in eight games and had four tackles (two solos).

Ray Raulerson, freshman, 6-5, 275, OL, Plant Senior High School, Tampa, Fla.: Raulerson was a three-star offensive tackle as a recruit, and his 22 offers included Auburn, Oklahoma State, and Nebraska before he chose UT. He moved to center not long after arriving on campus, and the transition proved difficult. As junior Mack Crowder locked down the starting center’s job, Raulerson’s redshirt season became clearer with each day. Not a bad move to redshirt him, as his playing time would have been limited.

Coleman Thomas, freshman, 6-6, 299, OL, Fort Chiswell High School, Max Meadows, Va.: Thomas came to UT as a consensus three-star center, where he played throughout his high school career, but moved to right tackle to fill a dire need for the Vols. Unlike Raulerson’s move to center, Thomas’s switch to tackle was fruitful. He worked with the first team in the spring, played in 11 games with five starts in the fall (missed two games with an ankle injury) and finished No. 2 behind senior Jacob Gilliam on the depth chart. His versatility is no surprise: Thomas was a standout basketball player (he can dunk) and baseball player in high school, too.

Owen Williams, junior, 6-2, 285, DL, Butler (Kan.) Community College, Westside High School, Macon, Ga.: Williams, a second-team All-American in junior college, was a three-star tackle coming to UT, and spent the season as the backup nose tackle behind sophomore Danny O’Brien. Williams still played in all but one game – he missed the Chattanooga game with a thumb injury/surgery – and finished with 21 tackles, two fewer than O’Brien.

Ethan Wolf, freshman, 6-5, 243, TE, Minster (Ohio) High School: Wolf’s best rating out of high school was a four-star by Scout, which had him as the nation’s No. 5 tight end. It was a good projection. Wolf became the first true freshman tight end to start a season opener in UT history, and saw action in 12 games with 11 starts (he missed the Oklahoma game with an ankle injury). He finished the season tied for fifth on the team in catches (23) for 212 yards, and had two catches in the bowl game.

Next week: A look at 2015 mid-year enrolees.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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