Murfreesboro, Nashville Players Get Jump on UT Careers

DAVE LINK | The Ledger

KNOXVILLE – Jack Jones didn’t want to waste any time getting started with his football career at the University of Tennessee, so he graduated in December from Murfreesboro Oakland High School.

Now, Jones is on UT’s campus along with nine other mid-year enrollees with the football Vols, and they’re already adjusting to college life and football.

It comes at a cost. Former classmates are still at home. There will be no swell of excitement as graduation approaches in the spring, no walking across the stage along with friends to get diplomas.

Not a problem for Jones, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman. He’s not looking back. Instead, he’s ready for the next stage of his career.

“I just want to get in the swing of things,” Jones explains. “I really want to get a lot stronger in the weight room. I’ll get a lot of work in with the coaches and everything, just learning the new plays and the new technique.

“Spring practice really will be a big benefit as well because those practice days mean a lot in the development of a player.”

Jones knows the issues the Vols faced with a youthful and inexperienced offensive line during the 2014 season. It was a thin unit in need of immediate help.

UT coach Butch Jones has made it clear he’s not opposed to playing true freshmen if they’re ready, and Jack Jones is all on board with that notion.

“Tennessee’s offensive line is really young,” he says. “I really want to come up here and help in any way I can. I just want to be out there and do anything for Coach (Don) Mahoney (line coach), coach (Butch) Jones, any way they need me.

“I think this offensive line made a lot of strides this year and they did a great job as the year developed. They just got better and better, and I hope to continue that into next year.

“We’re just going to keep getting better and better. If it means me getting to play a little bit, that’s awesome, but I’m here to work and I’m here to get this offensive line better.”

Freshman quarterback Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro Blackman High School enrolled early knowing there is plenty of competition at his position at UT.

Sophomore Joshua Dobbs secured the starting job last season and is the clear No. 1 heading into spring practice. His backup, third-year sophomore Nathan Peterman, also returns.

Freshman Quinten Dormady of Boerne (Texas) High School is another highly touted quarterback on campus as a mid-year enrollee, and the Vols have a commitment for 2015 from four-star dual-threat quarterback Sheriron Jones, a senior at Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley, Calif.

Jennings was at first recruited as an athlete, but plans to go full bore into the quarterback’s race at UT.

“It was something I had always wanted to do, but I didn’t get the opportunity to play varsity quarterback until my junior year of high school,” Jennings explains. “When I got the job, I did well with it, and during my senior year, I did excellent. Now, I am here.”

Freshman defensive end Kyle Phillips of Nashville Hillsboro High School knows the 2015 class of recruits, ranked in the top five nationally, has some lofty laurels. . Phillips is a four- and five-star recruit.

“I think this group can do really well,” Phillips says. “We still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of high expectations for our freshman class, but we have to put in a lot of work in the classroom and on the field just to show you guys how good we can be.”

With that said, let’s take a look at the 10 mid-year enrollees for 2015:

Andrew Butcher, freshman, 6-2, 245, DL, Alpharetta (Ga.) High School: Butcher, former teammate of UT quarterback Josh Dobbs, is a three- and four-star recruit who led Alpharetta with 89 tackles and 18 sacks in 2014. His father, Brian, was a standout guard at Clemson and was chosen by Minnesota in the 1983 NFL Draft.

Defensive line coach Steve Stripling: “Andrew comes from a very successful program and has an excellent knowledge of the technique used in college. He has a great football mentality and motor. Andrew is very physical and self-motivated.”

Quinten Dormady, freshman, 6-4, 200, QB, Boerne (Texas) High School: Dormady, a top-14 pro-style quarterback prospect in Texas and three- and four-star recruit, threw for almost 6,000 yards and 59 touchdowns in two seasons of high school. He missed his junior season with a torn labrum, but threw for 3,010 yards and 27 TDs as a sophomore. His father, Mike, was his high school coach.

QB coach/offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian: “(Dormady) is an accurate passer with a quick release who possesses a skill set that will help him excel in our offense. As the son of a coach, Quinten has been around the game his entire life and exhibits all the intangibles you look for in a leader and a quarterback.”


Stephen Griffin, freshman, 6-2, 185, DB, South Mecklenburg High School, Charlotte, N.C.: Griffin’s highest rating was by Scout, which had him the No. 46 safety overall and No. 2 in North Carolina. He was the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools defensive player of the year after posting 73 tackles with three interceptions in 2014, and doubled as a quarterback his junior year.

Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez: Stephen is a tremendous athlete who can make great plays in space and with the ball. He is a very smart and knowledgeable football player as he played on both sides of the ball in high school. He knows the game and can anticipate very well. I expect him to become an impact player.”


Chance Hall, freshman, 6-5, 315, OL, Northside High School, Roanoke, Va.: Hall missed the 2014 season with a torn Achilles tendon after earning all-state honors in 2013 on both the offensive and defensive line as Northside won a state title. Scout rates him the No. 2 offensive tackle in Virginia, and ESPN has him a four-star rating and No. 43 offensive tackle in the nation. He also played basketball in high school (20 points, 10 rebounds as a junior).

OL coach Don Mahoney: Chance has tremendous size and ability and has showed that on both sides of the ball. He comes from a very well coached program. He is very mature, and I like his approach both to his academics and football.”

Jauan Jennings, freshman, 6-4, 200, QB, Blackman High School, Murfreesboro: Jennings, a consensus four-star quarterback, is the No. 7 dual-threat QB in the nation by 247Sports, and No. 12 dual-treat QB by Rivals. He’s also the No. 19 safety overall and No. 1 safety in the state by Scout, but plans to play quarterback at UT. He threw for 2,155 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior and was the Tennessean newspaper’s player of the year. He also played basketball and ran track. His sister, Alexis Jennings, plays basketball at Kentucky.

Bajakian: “He is a fierce competitor who is a proven winner, advancing deep into the Tennessee state playoffs in each of the last two years. As a dual-sport athlete in high school, Jauan brings great athleticism and a diverse skill set to our offense.”


Jack Jones, freshman, 6-5, 300, OL, Oakland High School, Murfreesboro: Jones, a 2015 Under Armour All-American, was the Class AAA Mr. Football Lineman of the Year as a junior and senior. He’s a consensus four-star offensive tackle (guard by ESPN) and helped Oakland to a 14-2 record in 2014. Rated the No. 2 prospect in the state by ESPN, Rivals, and Scout, Jones had 125 pancake blocks last fall despite missing three games with a knee injury.

Mahoney: “Jack plays with toughness and the hard edge we strive for and expect in our players. He comes from a tremendous program that has a football way of life in how they train, which will make his transition to college easier. Jack has shown the ability to play both tackle and guard, and we really value his versatility.”

Alvin Kamara, junior, 5-11, 195, RB, Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, Norcross (Ga.) High School: Kamara originally signed with Alabama and redshirted with the Tide in 2013 before going to junior college. He rushed for 1,211 yards and 18 touchdowns in nine games and was rated a five-star recruit by Rivals and Scout and the No. 2 JUCO overall prospect by ESPN.

Running backs coach Robert Gillespie: “Alvin is an extremely competitive kid. He has an explosive element to his game that will allow him to help us immediately. I’m excited to coach him this spring and believe that his addition will create a healthy competition in the running backs room.”


Darrin Kirkland Jr., freshman, 6-1, 225, LB, Lawrence Central High School, Indianapolis: Kirkland Jr., a consensus four-star linebacker, played in the U.S. Army All-American Game in 2015 and was the No. 1 prospect in Indiana by ESPN and Rivals and No. 1 in the Midwest by Scout. As a sophomore, he helped Lawrence Central to a 14-0 record and state championship.

Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen: “Darrin is a perfect linebacker in today’s game in terms of his speed and size. He can play in space and is very physical versus the run. His football IQ is better than most second-year players, and we are thrilled to have him join our football family.”

Kyle Phillips, freshman, DL, 6-4, 250, Hillsboro High School, Nashville: Phillips, who played in the 2015 Army All-American Bowl, had 22.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in 2014 as Hillsboro went 14-1 and reached the Class 5A state championship game. He’s rated a five-star recruit by 247Sports (No. 7 strong side defensive end, No. 2 prospect in the state) and holds a four-star rating by ESPN, Rivals, and Scout. His mother, Teresa Phillips, is athletics director at Tennessee State University in Nashville.

Defensive line coach Steve Stripling: “Kyle has size, range and speed and is just starting to realize his potential. Being a mid-year addition will be a great benefit for his development. He has all the tools to be successful at the University of Tennessee.”


Shy Tuttle, freshman, DL, 6-3, 315, North Davidson High School, Winston-Salem, N.C.: Tuttle was a five-star rating by 247Sports, which had him the No. 1 prospect in North Carolina, but dropped to four-star in the final ratings. He was a four-star defensive tackle by ESPN, Rivals, and Scout, and had 315 tackles, 66 tackles for loss, and 35 sacks in four seasons of high school.

Stripling: “Shy is very competitive and plays with a big man mentality. His size and use of hands make him a force on the inside.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.