Tennessee Recruiting Gains Momentum

Erik Ainge

Recruiting is picking up steam at a couple of immediate-need positions for the Vols and help is on the way at safety where Tennessee loses three senior stalwarts in Rashad Baker, Gibril Wilson and Mark Jones.

Ellix Wilson isn't related to Gibril, but he is the brother of former Vol star and current San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Cedrick Wilson. Elix, 6-0, 210, 4.5, is a senior at Memphis Melrose High School.

"I think Tennessee was the favorite all along" said Melrose head coach Kenny Ingram. "That's the place he was most familiar with. It was a no-brainer he would decide to go there. "He's been up there so often and knows so much about it. He knows about Neyland Stadium and the traditions because he experienced so much of that when his brother was there."

Unlike Cedrick, Ellix won't have to undergo a position change once he gets on the Hill.

"Ellix has started since he was a freshman," said coach Ingram. "He really only plays defense, he plays strong safety and corner also. He could probably play either position at the next level. He's such an aggressive player and a big-time hitter, strong safety is where he might be more valuable."

In addition to his athletic prowess, Ellix is credited by his head coach with knowing how every aspect Melrose's defense works and conveying the schemes to his teammates on the field. "He's able to be a coach on the field, to remember the things the coaches say and be able to translate it. He was our best leader as a junior. He's been showing those qualities ever since his freshman year."

Ingram says Ellix Wilson has his brother's work ethic and versatility. Vol fans probably recalled that Cedrick played quarterback in high school, but switched to wide receiver as a true freshman and worked his way into UT's rotation that year playing with Peyton Manning during his senior year of 1997. He became a starter in 1998 and played on UT's national title team. He led Tennessee in receiving as a junior and senior.

"Ellix is a model player, works hard in the weight room, works hard in the offseason," said Ingram. "He runs track and he's a 10.6 100-meter dash guy."

Ellix intercepted six passes as a freshman and three in each his sophomore and junior seasons as opponents took great pains to avoid him. He helped lead Melrose to a 12-1 record and the state semifinals last season and he'll likely vie for playing time as a true freshman next season.

Three days after losing in-state tight end prospect Tom Santi of Montgomery Bell Academy to Virginia, the Vols committed Chris Brown, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound tight end with 4.6 speed from Jesuit High in New Orleans. Brown, who has caught 20 passes for 430 yards and three TDs this season, first appeared as a major college prospect this summer during a series of camp appearances at Florida, Tulane and LSU. He had offers from that trio as well as one from Indiana, but chose Tennessee.

"I committed to Tennessee this week," Brown told The Insiders Scott Kennedy. "That's kind of been a lifelong dream for me. I always wanted to go to a big school. Tennessee came down to see me. They came to one of my practices and watched one of my game tapes. I got the offer and committed to them. I know that Tennessee likes to throw the ball to the tight end a lot, and they haven't really been able to do that this year."

The Vols also remain in the running for the nation's No. 1 tight end Zach Miller, 6-5, 240, 4.7, of Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Az., but currently trail Arizona State, Miami and Southern Cal. Notre Dame and Oklahoma are also contenders for Miller's services. He is scheduled to visit Arizona State on Dec. 12.

Tennessee is also in the running for a couple of other tall, talented tight end prospects. Kellen Freeman-Davis is a 6-6, 230 pounder from Adrian, Mich., with 4.7 speed, who has offers from Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, Northwestern, Toledo, Bowling Green and Indiana. The Vols may be waiting out Miller's decision before they extend an offer.

Then there's DeMarcus Winston, 6-7, 235, of Little Rock Parkview High School, who is the son of former Arkansas tight end Billy Winston and the nephew of Steel Curtain linebacker Dennis "Dirt" Winston. DeMarcus has 4.7 speed and outstanding leaping ability. He's also a starter for the Patriots basketball team which is a perennial state title contender. Playing two sports and meeting Parkview's stringent academic standards, has left little time for Winston to get the reps he needs in the weight room. He has outstanding upside that won't be fully realized until he focuses on one sport.Stanford, Virginia, Alabama and Ole Miss."

On the quarterback, front the Vols remain in solid contention for a trio of Blue Chip prospects, but aren't listed as the leader with any.

Louisville Trinity quarterback Brian Brohm continues to list Tennessee among his top three schools along with Louisville and Notre Dame. He's also interested in Kentucky and Illinois, but he still hasn't set any official visits. He has visited Tennessee a couple of times unofficially and plans to return for an official visit.

Chase Patton of Columbia, Mo., who recently passed the 2,000-yard for the season in a game against Jefferson County, has Tennessee, Iowa, Missouri, UCLA and Kansas State as his five finalists and his father, Bob Patton, said Chase intends to take official visits to all five schools. Tennessee will get the first visit on Nov. 21. Patton, 6-41/2, 200, has visits set to Iowa, Dec. 5, Missouri, Dec. 12, Kansas State, Dec. 19, and UCLA on Jan. 6. Patton, who runs a 4.75, is rated the nation's No. 12 quarterback prospect by The Insiders and has been ranked among the top five drop-back passers.

Tennessee is also contending with Kansas State for Deerfield Beach, Fla., quarterback Brent Schaeffer, 6-2, 200, 4.45, ranked the nation's No. 23 quarterback by The Insiders. Schaeffer has passed for 1,458 yards and 15 touchdowns this season along with 10 rushing TDs.

"My favorite teams in no order right now are Tennessee, South Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss, N.C. State, Purdue, and Kansas State," Schaeffer stated. "I've set up one official visit so far. I'm going to Kansas State on December 19th."

Schaeffer, who is the cousin of Heisman runner-up and former Iowa star QB Brad Banks, threw for 2,574 yards and 31 touchdowns while rushing for 548 yards and 15 touchdowns as a junior. He is completing passes at an amazing 70 percent rate this season.

The on again, off again courtship between Tennessee and Daytona Beach, Fla., signal caller Xavier Lee appears to be on again. Lee, 6-3, 210, 4.59, plays for Seabreeze High School and is rated the nation's No. 8 QB by The Insiders. He threw for over 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns as a junior.

Two weeks ago, Lee set two state passing records in a 37-28 loss to Live Oak, Suwannee. He is now tops in Florida history with 7,555 career passing yards and 440 completions compiled directing the Sandcrab offense the last three seasons.

When recently asked to name his favorites, Lee said: "Florida State and a few others like Ohio State, Syracuse, Tennessee and Auburn."

Meanwhile the Volunteers are expanding their search to the great Northwest recruiting Erik Ainge, 6-6, 200, 4.78 of Glencoe High School in Hillsboro, Oregon. Ainge is the nephew of former NBA start and coach Danny Ainge.

"I'm going to start taking them (official visits) pretty soon," Erik said when asked about official visits. "Arizona State and Tennessee are the first two I'll take."

He is also strongly considering offers from home state Oregon and Oregon State and appears to have less interest in UCLA, which hasn't offered, Arizona and Stanford.

When asked if distance would be a factor with Tennessee since the rest of his favorites are on all on the west coast, Ainge said: "I don't think that would be too big of an issue." Tennessee has also reportedly offered Hoover High School quarterback John Parker Wilson, 6-1, 190, 4.62, who is ranked No. 39 by The Insiders. A longtime follower of the Crimson Tide, Wilson is also looking at the Alabama, Clemson, Mississippi and Georgia Tech.

The Vols have also offered Memphis Melrose quarterback Antonio Hefner, 6-2, 170, 4.50, who is considering Tennessee, Maryland, Mississippi, Auburn and Kentucky. It's not clear at this point if the Vols are offering Hefner as a quarterback or an athlete. He recently visited Maryland to see the Terps play Duke.

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