Tennessee’s impending reconstruction project of a offensive line, featuring a projected four senior starters with a combined 19 seasons on The Hill, is undoubtedly a daunting task, but there’s a potential cornerstone in the form of Music City man-child James Stone who would ease the degree of difficulty considerably.
That’s why the Vols are allocating so much in the way of manpower and resources to secure Stone’s services, but that objective is a tall order in itself with so many premiere football programs in hot pursuit and no designated favorite among a an early list of contenders that includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Notre Dame, Stanford, Vanderbilt and Tennessee.
There’s no question why Stone is in such demand. At 6-foot-5, 297 pounds he appears light going through his paces. A three-year starter, he’s quick off the ball and agile enough to bounce out on the second level or protect the perimeter. He has strong hands that he uses to create space and arrest the momentum of pass rushers. His mobility and arm length allow him to run speed rushers around the pocket before driving them into the dirt. He moves well in space and likes to run interference. Stone is the classic soft spoken nice guy with mean streak in the trenches and plays with maximum effort on every play until the whistle blows. A low-risk prospect with a high ceiling, Stone is ranked No. 11 by Scout.com among the nation’s crop of offensive tackles.
Playing both sides of the ball as a junior at Maplewood Comprehensive High School, Stone helped lead the Panthers to an 8-3 mark and into the second round of the Class-4A playoffs.
“I play offensive tackle and mostly tackle on defense but sometimes I’d line up at the end,” Stone said. Most teams have talked to me about playing offense. A few have talked about me playing defense. I had some sacks last year but I don’t remember how many.
“I haven’t been timed in the 40 yet this year. We’re lifting right now but we haven’t maxed out on weight. I was at about 285 on the bench (press) I should be up to about 300 now.”
When Stone watches football it’s as much educational as it is entertainment.
“I grew up in Nashville, but I really didn’t have any favorite teams growing up,” he said. “I usually like to focus on the linemen. I like watching offensive tackles mostly.”
Known for being a physically dominate blocker, Stone is also studious and cerebral. He carries a 3.7 GPA and scored a 28 on his ACT. He’s far more likely to spend his spare time reading a book as playing video games, contemplating the ancient past instead of focusing on the near future.
“I like history... I like to read,” he said. “I like to read about ancient civilizations. I haven’t decided what I’m going to major in yet, but I think I’d like to do something in education.”
Stone has been getting a crash course in college football recruiting having made unofficial visits this spring to Auburn, Alabama, Tennessee and Notre Dame. UT fans probably recall that the Vols lost Brentwood four-star offensive tackle to Notre Dame last year and the Fighting Irish are pushing hard for Stone’s commitment, as are the Tide and Tigers. Still Tennessee has a home-state advantage and unfilled openings in the front five.
“Right now Coach Chaney is the one recruiting my the hardest,” Stone said when asked to identify the coach recruiting him for UT, “but I try to keep in contact with a lot of their coaches. I talk to Coach Orgeron, Coach Craig and Coach (Lane) Kiffin.”
Tennessee is deploying more than one coach on a significant percentage of its high-value targets. That approach is yielding results according to Stone, who offered high praise for the Vols coaching staff.
“They really size up,” he said. “They’re dynamic and they’ve got the program going in a positive direction. I feel like they’re very informed and they coach the players well. I liked the way they run their practices. I was up there a couple of weeks ago to watch them.”
Not content to rest on his laurels, Stone is looking to polish and improve his overall game in preparation for his senior season.
“I want to improve my pad leverage,” he stated. “To make sure I’m staying low all the time. I just want to be able get my steps down — fine tune things you know, like my technique and footwork. I want to tighten up every part of my game.”
Will that lead to the prized prospect attending any football camps this summer?
“I think I’m going to try and go to a few camps this summer but I don’t know which ones yet,” he said.
“Tennessee’s is one I’ll consider. I’d like to make it up to their linemen’s camp. I really like their coaching staff and tradition there. “I’d describe Tennessee as a strong contender.”
And Tennessee would describe Stone as a must-have prospect.