Bright Outlook for Vols in Sunshine State

Ricky Jean-Francois

Florida's citrus crop may be down this winter but the harvest of football talent in the Sunshine State is always first rate and the Big Orange are in position to make a huge haul this year.

Tennessee already has a commitment from Demetrice Morley of Killian High School in Miami, who is rated the nation's No. 3 cornerback prospect by Scout.com. Morley, 6-0, 180, 4.55, had a standout performance in the recent Florida-California all-star game which included an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown.

The Vols are also currently listed as co-leaders with Miami for the services of the nation's No. 1 rated free safety — Kenneth Phillips of Miami Coral City High School. Regarded by many as the top football prospect in Florida this year, the six-foot-2, 195-pound Phillips is equal parts physical and finesse. He runs a 4.45 time in the 40 and hits like a ton of bricks.

Now word comes that Phillips' teammate Ricky Jean-Francois is also vitally interested in the Vols. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound five-star prospect is rated the nation's No. 3 defensive end by Scout.com and is clearly one of the nation's premier pass rushers. As a senior, he posted 93 tackles with 15 sacks, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Jean-Francois runs a 4.6 time in the 40 and has remarkable athletic ability, a combination that earned him the nickname "The Freak."

Jean-Francois currently makes Tennessee his a co-leader with Miami and he's also very interested in Auburn. He is expected to take his official visit to UT next weekend with Phillips, but that date is still being firmed up. He is also expected to take official visits to Miami and Auburn this month but no dates have been for those visits have been confirmed.

He recently told Scout.com's Mike Bakas that he was also considering a visit to South Florida. Jean-Francois, who still needs a qualifying score on his SAT which he plans to retake in February, won the state crown in both the shot put and discus last spring.

It's at least encouraging from UT's standpoint that Phillips appears to be taking an active role in promoting the Vols with his teammate, and the coaching staff is doing an excellent job of selling the speed rusher on the Vols' defensive system.

"The coaches at Tennessee told me I can go in there and be somebody to make a big impact on their defensive line," Jean-Francois told Allen Wallace of Scout.com. "I like how they tend to do a lot of different things with their defensive scheme, like the way they stunt. They're going to do it differently a lot of the time and they like to run that for their defense."

Phillips and Jean-Francois helped lead Coral City to a state championship in 2003 as the defensive end recorded 80 tackles with 10 sacks, and the safety had 84 tackles, six interceptions, three fumble recoveries, four defensive touchdowns and three punt returns for TDs.

This dynamic defensive duo would be a perfect fit for John Chavis' speed oriented, attacking defensive scheme.

If Tennessee's recruiting success was limited to the trio of blue chip prospects in Miami it would be outstanding, but the Vols are making inroads throughout the state. In Madison County UT is neck-and-neck with Florida State for big-time linebacker Eugene Hayes, 6-3, 215, 4.6.

Hayes is rated the nation's No. 2 player at his position by Scout.com and he's slated to officially visit Knoxville next weekend. Auburn is still in the picture for Hayes but fading fast with national signing day rapidly approaching. Hayes might be a sign-and-place candidate but his talent would be worth the wait, and the Vols have a recent history of success with such prospects i.e. Demonte Bolden and Jonathan Hefney.

In Jacksonville, Fla., Tennessee is a prime player for the services Bryan Evans, who is the nation's No. 6 rated cornerback prospect according to Scout.com. Evans currently rates UT a co-favorite with Florida State. He visits Knoxville next weekend followed by officials to Georgia (Jan. 21) and Tallahassee (Jan. 28).

"I still have two in January, the 21st is Georgia and the 28th is Florida State," Evans told Bob Redman of Gatorcountry.com. "The seventh I'm not doing anything and the 15th, I will still be in San Antonio. I am definitely sure about the Georgia visit on the 21st, but not exactly sure about the Florida State visit on the 28th. Like I said I am open. I am trying to make the best decision for me where I can play early. I think I can play early at most colleges, so I will be all right wherever I go."

Evans, 5-11, 177, 4.45, was a standout on both sides of the ball as a senior at Ed White High School, intercepting five passes, returning two for touchdowns while posting 47 tackles. He also surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for rushing and receiving with another five touchdowns. Evans added another touchdown on a punt return. He visited Tennessee on Dec. 10.

Other Florida prospects UT is contending for include: No. 8 wide receiver O.J. Murdock of Tampa, No. 20 defensive end Gerald Williams of Lauderdale Lakes, No. 24 defensive tackle Valdimir Richard of Sunrise, No. 22 tight end Brian Ellis of Daytona Beach, No. 48 safety Ray Herring of Melbourne and non-rated wide receiver Cedric McGee of Plantation.

Ellis, Herring and McGee are all scheduled to be in Knoxville for official visits next weekend.

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