Will Linebacker Search Leave Vols in a Lurch?

Robert Ayers

Visit weekends in January at Tennessee have been a veritable revolving door for all-American linebackers — a sure sign the Vols are looking to reload for the future — but how many of these linebackers are left and which are most likely to become UT signees?

There's plenty of news on this front but none of it is particularly good for Tennessee. Josh Johnson and Lawrence Timmons visited the Vols last week only to commit to Georgia and Florida State, respectively, this week. Johnson is rated No. 9 nationally and TImmons No. 10 and they were two of UT's top six targets at linebacker.

Two other members of UT's top 6 linebacker targets — No. 12 Andrew Bowman (Virginia Tech) and No. 14 Brandon Siler (Florida) — have also committed to other schools after visiting the Volunteers.

Tennessee's top two targets — No. 5 Brian Toal and No. 8 Robert Ayers — are still deciding. The Vols appear to be underdogs for Brian Toal who continues to express an amazement about UT's facilities, but Boston College and Miami are in the lead with Virginia Tech slated to get a visit this weekend. Toal has a brother (Greg) on Boston College's team and he likes the Canes rep for turning out NFL linebackers.

The Vols are in a battle with Florida for No. 8 Robert Ayers as South Carolina appears to be losing ground. Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis was in Ayers' Bennettville, S.C., home Thursday evening, following in-home visits earlier in the week from Gamecock boss Lou Holtz and Gator defensive coordinator Charlie Strong.

Tennessee was Ayers' early favorite but Florida closed a lot of ground on his official visit (Jan. 23). Has Ayers come off his Gainesville high like he did Columbia, S.C., high the week before?

"Right now it will probably by Florida or Tennessee," Ayers told The Insiders Jamie Newberg. "South Carolina is still there too. Tennessee is a few players away from being a great team. They have a great program and very good coaches.

"Florida is a team that will be on top very soon. They have good players but they are young. All they need is experience. It would be nice to play in the state of Florida as well."

The next three highest rated and most viable linebacker prospects for Tennessee begins with No. 25 Jerrod Mayo, of Hampton, Va., who is expected to chose between UT and Virginia Tech.

"I don't know, but I'm just going to tell you that I like Tech a lot and I like Tennessee a lot," Mayo said. "They are going to be up there, them and N.C. State. The only team that I know is out is Purdue, but UVA is kind of falling off."

At No. 29 is Tallahassee linebacker Ricky Gallon who is visiting FSU this weekend and who visited UT on Jan. 23. He is scheduled to announce his decision on Monday (Feb. 2) between FSU, Auburn and Tennessee. Like in the cases of Ayers and Mayo, the Vols have to overcome a last visit and home-state advantage by the competition for his services.

Likewise, No. 31 linebacker Hugh D'Imperio of Sewell, N.J., will visit Virginia Tech this weekend (Jan. 30) and is also still considering Michigan State. He had a great visit to Tennessee on Jan. 18. This figures to come down to UT and VTU but with Bowman already committed and Mayo a strong candidate to follow suit, D'Imperio might fall to the Vols.

Fortunately, Tennessee has signed Antonio Reynolds, The Insiders' No. 15 rated linebacker from Hargrave Military Academy. He's already in school and will participate in spring drills as well as benefit from a demanding off season training program.

At this point, UT's best chances appear to be with Ayers and D'Imperio with Gallon and Mayo being more problematical. Toal is probably pipe dream, but last year's signing day was the Impossible Dream come true for the Volunteers.

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