HOOVER, Ala. – Tennessee’s top-ranked recruiting class has come together largely thanks to the tireless efforts of coach Butch Jones and his assistant coaches, who have helped revive UT’s image over the past eight months since taking over a 5-7 team last December.
But in a sense, he’s had 85 other assistants helping him build the class of 2014 and many of them come from an unlikely source: Tennessee’s rising senior class.
It’s unusual because the seniors have the least to gain from helping Jones recruit. They will be out of the program by 2014 and won’t directly see the fruit of their labors on the field.
That hasn’t stopped some of them from helping.
“I’m a Vol fan, so recruiting is always going to be my thing,” said Ooltewah native and senior defensive end Jacques Smith. “I’m on the recruiting trail 24/7, I might not tweet stuff out like [senior safety] Byron Moore, but I’m always following our recruits and knowing what’s going on and helping out.
“Coach Jones is doing a great job with recruiting. Having the No. 1 class just gives our fan base even more energy going into the season and that’s definitely going to last throughout the season.”
Moore has been been perhaps the most active recruiter on social media, but Smith is a huge asset for the Vols once they get recruits on campus. He claims responsibility for at least 10 commitments during his time at UT and said he is the best host and the best recruiting closer of all his teammates.
Senior offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James disagrees.
James, who was originally recruited by Lane Kiffin, signed under Derek Dooley and now plays for Jones, claims to be the best recruiting host on the team and also claims responsibility for multiple past UT commitments – including senior center James Stone.
“It’s crazy to see,” James said of Jones’ recruiting. “Everybody in Knoxville is talking about it – we’ve got the No. 1 recruiting class in the country in some polls and he’s just been here seven months. That just goes to show the type of guy he is and how much he wants to get Tennessee back on top.”
James expressed a desire to be part of what Jones is doing on the trail, even though he’ll be likely be playing in the NFL when the 2014 class enrolls next summer.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “I hosted a guy last week. I’m telling him I want Tennessee to be better than it was while I was here. Tennessee is going to be here longer than any of us and just to see it back to where it was, that would put a smile on my face.”
Smith thinks Jones’ progress on the recruiting trail is more than a temporary success story.
“Yeah it’s going to last,” he said of UT’s top-ranked group. “He’s remodeling us so everybody knows who Tennessee is.”
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga