KNOXVILLE – As of late Monday morning it’s been close to 24 hours without Tennessee receiving another football commitment for the class of 2014.
Consider it a drought.
That’s how frenzied recruiting has been recently for UT and coach Butch Jones, who snagged six commitments in an eight-day span starting on July 14 and ending Sunday afternoon.
It was an impressive bunch, too. Going by Rivals.com rankings, there were five four-star commitments – safety Cortez McDowell, receiver Eric Lauderdale, receiver Dominique Booth, safety RaShaan Gaulden and linebacker Kevin Mouhon. That’s not to discount three-star offensive lineman Ray Raulerson, who, from a needs perspective, might’ve been the biggest get of the bunch.
For some perspective, last year’s class had just five total four-star commitments. The class of 2014 is also up to 24 total commitments, already topping last year’s total of 22.
Only five other SEC schools - Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M – currently have more than five Rivals.com four-star commitments in their 2014 class. Again, Jones landed that many in just over one week.
Because commitments change and are non-binding, there’s not an extensive record book on them, but it seems that some records had to be broken during this run. Outside the weeks surrounding signing day, there are few comparisons in recent UT history in terms of quality and volume of commitments in such a short period of time.
Perhaps the only close comparison is former coach Lane Kiffin reeling in three four-stars on one day in September of 2009 – Corey Miller, Brandon Willis and DeMarco Cobb. After Kiffin left, only Miller ended up in Knoxville.
It’s hard to say exactly how orchestrated this past week was, but there seemed to be a method to it all. Jones tabbed it “Foundation Week” and made sure that many of his currently committed prospects were in town in addition to many top uncommitted targets.
The rate and spacing of the announcements seemed planned – a brilliant PR tactic by Jones and his staff to bring excitement to a crescendo just as fall camp is set to begin next week. Jones often refers to himself as the CEO of Tennessee football, but he likely acted more like an air traffic controller over the past week, directing players who had expressed their desire to play at UT clearance to make their public declarations.
They were spaced just far enough apart to keep the anticipation growing and to give each commitment “their moment” and the subsequent media coverage.
The success of the past week can’t be measured only in number of commitments. The Vols hosted many other top targets for 2014 and 2015 who didn’t make a public pledge this week, but got to feel the momentum and excitement that comes with such a recruiting surge and having the top-ranked class in the nation.
Defensive lineman Derek Barnett, lineman Charles Mosley, cornerback Adoree Jackson, defensive tackle Chris Williams, cornerback Evan Berry and linebacker/safety Elliott Berry were among the other reported visitors this weekend. Landing a few of them would go a long way towards holding the top spot in the recruiting rankings and filling some key needs for the Vols going forward.
The true impact of “Foundation Week” might not be known until February.
And though momentum is high at the moment, it’s a good time to stop and recognize that it is only July and there are over six month left before signing day – an eternity in the world of recruiting.
Tennessee likely won’t hold on to every commitment it has and could even lose several. That’s just the nature of recruiting, especially when commitments come in this early. But the Vols are well ahead of the recruiting pace of past years and are in a position where, even if they don’t gain another commitment and hang on to most of those they have, they could have a top-10 class.
The pending storms will test Jones and this class, though. This is a team that will have to fight for a bowl appearance and could be on the wrong side of several blowouts with the likes of Oregon, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina on the schedule.
Jones is hoping to sell the big picture and relationships more than wins and losses in 2013, though. The current class is a tight-knit group that keeps in regular contact and visits Knoxville frequently.
He has help from his current players as well.
“I take a lot of pride in [helping recruiting],” offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said at SEC Media Day last Wendesday. “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.”
The Vols will likely be back soon if Jones keeps his current recruiting pace up. He hopes this past record-setting week will be a big part of the foundation for what’s to come.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanielNooga