He will lay his cards on the table in systematic fashion, showing post-card quality photos of the campus, community, library, dorm rooms, etc. He will move on to athletic facilities — the weight room, dressing room, practice fields, arena and stadium. He will lay out a timeline charting Tennessee’s long history of football success and rich tradition. He will pop in a slickly produced video tape that captures the game-day atmosphere in Knoxville — the strip teaming with life, tailgaters grilling and chilling, an orange armada aka Vol Navy anchored en mass, fans talking the talk, Vols walking the Walk, and that electric moment Tennessee takes the field to the roar of passionate masses. He will present articles from prestigious sports publications ranking game day in Big Orange Country as best in all the land. And he will present testimony from former Vols and current NFL stars extolling their college experience at Tennessee.
The young man will look on with varying degrees of interest, zooming in and out like a telephoto lens on auto focus — polite, favorably impressed, but not blown away. After all, he’s seen similar presentations from other college coaches and knows when you control what’s on film, in pictures, in quotes and in print, it’s pretty easy to place your program in a glowing light.
That’s when Sanders falls silent, slowly reaches into his attaché case where he retrieves an unmarked file carefully wound with polished cord at a button clasp. He lifts it without a hint of its contents — adjusting his grip to better accommodate it’s ample bulk — drops it on the table and tells the young man to take a look.
Inside he finds folders categorizing various offensive formations, a series of diagramed plays, contingencies and personnel. It will take little more than a cursory review of the play contents to see the Vols run an advanced offensive system that places a lot of responsibility on the quarterback to make quick, precise pre-snap reads and affords the QB a lot of latitude to change plays. In other words, it’s a perfect primer for pro football. He nods his approval, turning and scanning pages with a quickening pace.
In the personnel file, he discovers individual sheets containing photos, bios, vital statistics and gridiron honors of Tennessee’s key offensive players for the 2004 season. The file is populated by big young linemen with all-American credentials such as: Rob Smith, Cody Douglas, Brandon Jefferies, Heath Benedict, Eric Young and Aarron Sears. There are stellar regulars like Michael Munoz and Jason Respert and promising prospects like Richie Gandy, Steve Jones and Victor McClure.
There’s a collection of diverse running backs — established performers like Cedric Houston, Jabari Davis and Derrick Tinsley, a rising star in Gerald Riggs, Jr., and up and coming 250-pound fullback in Will Revill.
There’s plenty of potential at tight end in Aaron Kirkland, rated the nation’s No. 3 tight end when signed in 2002, and incoming freshman Brad Cottam (6-8, 240, 4.78), who is considered by many recruiting authorities to be the top sleeper at his position in the Class of 2003. Plus another freshman sleeper in Bill Grimes, an H-back in development who reminds many of former Vol and current Packer David Martin.
By the time this topnotch QB prospect reaches the file marked wide receivers, his growing excitement becomes difficult to contain. Inside he finds a first-rate unit headlined by a terrific trio of freshmen all-Americans with sterling reputations in Jayson Swain, Bret Smith and Robert Meachem. Smith is an outstanding play maker with a knack for separation, Meachem has been called “the fastest receiver on the planet” and Swain may be the best all-around receiving talent the Vols have signed in the last decade. Add to this list some impressive players on the precipice of becoming big producers — C.J. Fayton, Montrell Jones, and Chris Hannon, a proven performer in Tony Brown and a couple of promising talents in James Banks and Jonathan Wade, assuming they haven’t been shifted to other areas for more immediate deployment.
Located between linemen and receivers, this high-quality QB finds the thinnest file of all, and yet, it may be the one that reveals the most critic information of interest. Behind the divider marked quarterbacks, he finds only one sheet detailing Bo Hardegree, an incoming freshman with good potential that will take time to develop at the collegiate level. Perhaps there’s another reference to Banks, an athletic signal caller who’s probably ill-suited for Tennessee’s drop-back style, but Hardegree is the only player on UT’s 95-scholarship roster that projects purely as a quarterback.
Perhaps after considering everything Sanders has presented, the young man with the strong arm, bright eyes, sharp mind and brave heart will simply say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ It doesn’t seem likely, and even if he does, how many more prospects of his ilk could follow suit? How many could walk away from an opportunity to step into a ready-made offense, a proven system armed with big weapons and a formidable front for a major football power with high-profile status and a vibrant fan base?
The guess here is: not even two, which is why Tennessee’s leading candidate for quarterback of 2004 will already be on board before 2003 gets underway.