KNOXVILLEâWhen Butch Jones was hired on Dec. 7, 2012, he promised to keep Tennesseeâs top in-state talent in the state.
He vowed to hire the best coaching staff in the country, too â one that excelled on the recruiting trail because of their ability to create relationships in what he often calls a relationship-based business.
After signing his first full class during Wednesdayâs National Signing Day, Jones lived up to those opening-day promises.
The Vols received 18 National Letters of Intent, joining a list of 14 early enrollees that arrived last month to bring the swelling 2014 recruiting class to a close at 32 names. The class was ranked fifth by Rivals.com
Of the 32 scholarship signees, ten are Tennessee natives, including seven of the top nine in the state.
âYou look at our in-state recruiting, I want them to understand our rivalries,â Jones said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon. âI want them to understand our great former players, I want them to understand what it means to represent this great state.â
The class â billed as âThe Legacy Classâ after getting commitments from Todd Kelly, Jr., Dillon Bates, Vic Wharton and Evan and Elliot Berry, all of which have family ties to Tennessee athletics â was headlined by a pair of 5-Star prospects and the stateâs top two players in Station Camp receiver Josh Malone and Hendersonville running back Jalen Hurd.
âYou look at the legacy players,â Jones said, âand then we venture off into other areas that are basically our home bases in recruiting. I feel like we were really, really able to attract that in this recruiting class.
âWe really feel this class will represent Tennessee in a really positive manner, both on the field and off the field.â
Kelly, an athlete from Webb School, was rated as the No. 3 players in the state, ahead of defensive end Derek Barnett at No. 5, safety Rashaan Gaulden at No. 6, defensive end Michael Sawyers at No. 7 and Wharton, a wide receiver, at No. 9.
Kelly is the son of the former Vol by the same name. Bates is the son of former Vol Bill Bates, while Wharton is the nephew of former Tennessee basketball player Brandon Wharton and the Berry twins are the younger brothers of for All-American Tennessee defensive back Eric Berry.
Sawyers committed late Tuesday night, picking the Vols over Missouri. Sawyers, once a Vanderbilt commitment, reopened his recruitment when former Vandy coach James Franklin left for Penn State.
Defensive tackle Jashon Robertson, the stateâs 13th-ranked prospect, also dropped Vandy after Franklinâs departure and signed with Tennessee.
The Vols also landed in-state lineman Charles Mosley (No. 13) and kicker Aaron Medley (No. 17).
Jones took time Wednesday to pump the brakes on the hype thatâs coming with what was ranked Wednesday night as the fifth-best recruiting class in the country by Rivals.com
âI want to guard against all the expectations that are going to come with this recruiting class,â he said. â ... Again, I think itâs very unfair to put a lot on the shoulders of this recruiting class. As we all know, this recruiting class will probably be judged two or three years down the line.â
Cory Thomas was Tennesseeâs only true loss Wednesday, as the former Vol commit flipped and signed with Mississippi State.
Linebacker Jerome Dews, who will ultimately be a grayshirt, announced Tuesday that he would have to go to prep school for five months before enrolling. Offensive lineman Orlando âZeusâ Brown was an academic casualty.
When he was hired as Tennesseeâs 24th head coach and fourth in the last six years, Jones had just over a monthâs worth of recruiting days to build a 2013 class that included just 22 signees. By 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, the Vols had already surpassed that number with over 10 letter of intent to go with the Volsâ 14 early enrollees, before finishing with 32 in total.
âI think to me, we were able to address a lot of immediate needs,â Jones said. âTo me, one of the biggest advantages of this recruiting class are the 14 early enrollees. You cannot put a value high enough on having midyear enrollees in your football program.â