Vol Staff Has Eye For Sleepers

James Turner

Virtually everyone recognizes success in recruiting is largely about selling, but fewer appreciate success in recruiting is also about buying.

Sure college coaches have to convince a prospect that their school has more to offer than the competition, but often the real edge comes in knowing who and when to offer a scholarship. Such a distinction isn't necessary when it comes to a consenus top 10 prospect — everybody wants them and all are making their best sales pitches.

It's a different matter when it comes to a prospect that is not attracting that type of intense attention. In that case you have to make sure you want to buy and come through with an offer at the right time.

Tennessee coaches have proven in recent years they know football talent when they see it and don't care how it impacts their recruiting ranking to sign a player that is not highly rated. Take true freshman James Turner for example. The Augusta, Ark., linebacker was rated a two-star prospect by The Insiders last year and wasn't even offered by in-state Arkansas. In fact he only had three Division I offers. Today he figures into UT's linebacker depth chart and is sure to see early action, while higher rated players at his position i.e. Robert Ayers and Jerrod Mayo are struggling to follow suit. Similarly, Ryan Karl, of Battle Ground Academy, has shown well at linebacker despite his ranking as the nation's No. 60 defensive back.

Then there's San Diego running back Arian Foster who checked in as the nation's No. 69 running back prospect as ranked by The Insiders last season. However in Saturday's scrimmage which was also his first against college competition, he demonstrated instincts as a runner that have eluded such notable players as Jabari Davis (No. 2 RB in the Class of 2001) Derrick Tinsley (No. 4 in the Class of 2001), Cedric Houston (No. 7 in the Class of 2001), Gerald Riggs (No. 3 in the Class of 2002) and JaKouri Williams (No. 7 in the Class of 2004).

Inquoris Johnson is another a two-star prospect from the Class of 2005 who carried a modest No. 96 ranking among the nation's wide receiver prospects in the Class of 2005. Johnson has been impressive in preseason workouts and could figure into UT's secondary packages as a true freshman. Another rising star in Larry Slade's secondary is Rashaun Fellows of Warren, Ark., who wasn't even on recruiting radar screens when the Vols offered him in 2003 but projects as a key figure this fall as a redshirt freshman.

Tight end/H-back Chris Brown of New Orleans, La., is another two-star prospect who looks like a sure fire receiving threat as a true freshman.

Finally, there's freshmen quarterbacks Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer to consider. Neither prospect cracked The Insiders' top 13 as players at their position in the Class of 2004. Schaeffer was listed at No. 14 while Ainge was rated No. 28. Currently these prospects are battling each other for the Vols starting job while former SuperPrep All-American and sixth-year senioir C.J. Leak has been moved to safety. By the way, one of the receivers Ainge and Schaeffer will be throwing to, C.J. Fayton, came to Tennessee as the nation's No. 11 ranked quarterback prospect.

Tennessee's roster is literally littered with other such unsung prospects who proved to be big-time contributors. For instance: Antwan Stewart and Marvin Mitchell weren't even ranked among Virginia's top 40 prospects in 2002 but both players became starters — at cornerback and linebacker, respectively — in their first season. Defensive end Jason Hall was non-ranked nationally when UT offered him in 2002 and starting fullback Cory Anderson only had an offer from MTSU before Tennessee closed him.

Ratings have improved over the years with the proliferation of camps, combines and game tapes. They provide a useful function and they're a lot of fun. But when it comes to putting together a solid recruiting class you've got to know how to sell as well as what to buy.

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