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VOL. 132 | NO. 30 | Friday, February 10, 2017

You Gotta Have Heart: UT’s 2017 Recruiting Class

BY DAVE LINK, Knoxville Sports Correspondent

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Butch Jones did it again. The Tennessee football coach gave opponents press conference fodder with another one-liner while putting his spin on the Vols’ 2017 signing class.

It happened a day after the Feb. 1 National Signing Day when UT’s class was rated No. 17 nationally in the 247Sports composite rankings.

“Everyone gets into the whole two-star, three-star, four-star, five-star thing,” Jones said during a stop in Nashville. “The only five-star that we even concern ourselves with is a five-star heart. We want five-star hearts and five-star competitors.”

Jeez. Remember his “Champions of Life?” That’s what Jones called his senior class after it didn’t win the SEC East (as was expected) and before it lost to Vanderbilt (as wasn’t expected).

Jones can say what he wants about the 2017 recruiting class, but it looks pretty average on paper.

247Sports’ composite rankings shows Tennessee’s signing class with 22 three-star recruits, four four-stars and one five-star. UT’s class ranks seventh in the SEC behind No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Auburn, No. 10 Florida and No. 12 Texas A&M.

It’s Jones’ lowest-ranked class since his first one at Tennessee in 2013, a class he assembled in a couple months after taking over for fired Derek Dooley.

Tennessee’s 2013 class was rated No. 24 by 247Sports composite and was made up of four four-stars and 18 three-stars. One of the four stars was quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

UT’s 2014 class ranked No. 7 and had 16 four-stars and 16 three-stars. The 2015 class soared to No. 4 and had one five-star, 15 four-stars and 12 three-stars.

Then comes a slide.

UT’s 2016 class was ranked No. 14 and had 10 four-stars, 13 three-stars and no five-stars.

Jones had 13 players de-commit during the 2017 recruiting cycle, including two five-star recruits, wide receiver Tee Higgins of Oak Ridge High and quarterback Hunter Johnson of Brownsburg High in Indiana. Both signed with Clemson.

Higgins’ change-of-mind was particularly painful for Tennessee fans because he’s in Jones’ backyard – and he joined Knoxville Catholic High wide receiver Amari Rodgers, son of former UT quarterback Tee Martin, as a member of Clemson’s signing class.

The Vols signed seven in-state players, including five ranked in the top 20 in the state. Leading the group is five-star offensive tackle Trey Smith of University School of Jackson, the lone five-star in the class and the No. 1 recruit in Tennessee in the 247Sports composite.

Other in-state players include running back Ty Chandler of Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy, the No. 5 in-state player by 247Sports; safety Maleik Gray of La Vergne (No. 6); defensive end LaTrell Bumphus of Hardin County High (No. 12); safety Theo Jackson of Nashville Overton High (No. 17); and offensive tackle K’Rojhn Calbert of Warren County High (No. 21).

Chandler should be an impact player alongside sophomore John Kelly, the Vols’ top returning running back.

Smith, one of five January enrollees, was UT’s biggest catch.

“This class obviously starts up front with the offensive line,” Jones said on National Signing Day. “Any time you can add a player the caliber of Trey Smith, who had an opportunity to go anywhere in the country and chose to stay close to home, that is a big element to that.’’

Jones planned to sign 28 players, but La Vergne High wide receiver Princeton Fant will be a blueshirt player, meaning he’ll be eligible to enroll and play in the fall after graduating high school but isn’t counted as an incoming scholarship player until the 2018 class.

Tennessee led the SEC in de-commitments during the 2017 recruiting cycle. Mississippi State had 11 and South Carolina eight.

“I think it’s part of the game,” Jones said. “We want individuals that want to be here, that want to represent the University of Tennessee and that want to gain a great degree and want to win championships. Sometimes that’s all part of it. That’s why it’s the ebbs and flows of recruiting and you just continue to recruit.”

Jones said the de-commitments didn’t have a negative impact on the recruiting trail.

“The de-commitments did not do anything to affect us from a negative standpoint,” he explains. “You’re always looking to find the best players. Sometimes that’s a two-way street with a de-commitment, but it’s all about finding the right fit for us, and there’s a lot of dynamics going into that.

“So no, nothing from a negativity standpoint. I think this overall was the most positive year that we’ve had in recruiting. Every high school I went into, whatever state it was, whether it was the principal of the high school, the football coach, the athletic director coming out and saying, ‘Wow, Tennessee’s back.’ ”

We’ll see how this class plays out.

Maybe the five-star hearts will surprise some of us.

Here is a look at UT’s 2017 signing class with each player’s 247Sports star rating, not the 247Sports composite star rating. Three players, Shanon Reid, Matthew Butler and Jordan Murphy, are three-stars in the 247Sports composite and four-stars in 247Sports. Kicker Brent Cimaglia is a two-star in 247Sports and three-star in the composite.

Early Enrollees

Deandre Johnson

Freshman, DE, 6-4, 235 pounds, Southridge Senior High, Miami, Florida

247Sports: 3-star (No. 44 weak-side defensive end, No. 102 prospect in Florida)

High School: Johnson, a team captain, had 15 sacks last season as Southridge went 12-2 and won the Class 8A state championship. He played in Nike’s The Opening in 2015, and also considered Mississippi State, Georgia Tech and California. He originally committed to Mississippi State before flipping to Tennessee.

Riley Locklear

Freshman, OL, 6-5, 295 pounds, Spring Valley High, Huntington, West Virginia

247Sports: 3-star (No. 62 offensive tackle, No. 3 prospect in West Virginia.

High School: Locklear was a two-year team captain and played both offensive and defensive tackle for Spring Valley. He also lettered in basketball one season and was on the school’s bass fishing club. Locklear received the 2016 Stydahar Award given to the top interior lineman by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association and was a two-time all-state player. He also considered Florida State, Ole Miss, West Virginia and South Carolina.

Will McBride

Freshman, QB, 6-1, 195 pounds, 

Clear Springs High, League City, Texas

247Sports: 3-star (No. 28 dual-threat quarterback, No. 183 prospect in Texas)

High School: McBride accounted for 5,714 yards total offense and 69 touchdowns in three varsity seasons and went 15-8 as the starter as a junior and senior. He’s been clocked at 4.59 in the 40-yard dash. After originally committing to SMU, McBride switched to Tennessee in December. He also considered Memphis, Utah and Boise State.

Shannon Reid

Freshman, LB, 6-0, 205 pounds, Dunbar High, Lehigh Acres, Florida

247Sports: 4-star (No. 42 outside linebacker, No. 81 prospect in Florida)

High School: Reid lettered four years at Dunbar, was team captain for one year and was a member of the U.S. Army National All-Combine team. He lettered three years in baseball and two years in basketball. Reid, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, also considered LSU, Michigan and Iowa State.

Trey Smith

Freshman, OL, 

University School of Jackson

247Sports: 5-star (No. 14 overall prospect, No. 4 offensive tackle, No. 1 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Smith was a three-time all-state player and was the Division II-A Mr. Football award winner as a junior and senior. In 2016, Smith didn’t allow a sack as USJ averaged 300 rushing yards per game and reached the state semifinals. ESPN rated Smith the No. 1 recruit in the nation. He also considered Alabama, Ohio State and Ole Miss, among others.

Feb. 1 Signees

Terrell Bailey

Freshman, CB, 5-11, 180 pounds, John Ehret High, Harvey, Louisiana

247Sports: 3-star (No. 492 overall prospect, No. 49 cornerback, No. 19 prospect in Louisiana).

High School: Bailey helped John Ehret High to the Louisiana Class 5A state championship game in 2015 and was an honorable mention all-state player in 2016. He was selected to The Advocate’s Super Dozen Second Dozen for top recruits in the Class of 2017. He also considered Ole Miss, Arkansas, Notre Dame and Texas A&M.

Marquez Bembry

Freshman, DE, 6-2, 215, Mount Vernon Presbyterian High, Stone Mountain, Georgia

247Sports: 3-star (No. 548 overall prospect, No. 39 athlete, No. 54 prospect in Georgia).

High School: Bembry missed most of the 2016 season after suffering a knee injury, but played offense and defense as a junior and had 31 catches for 397 yards and 110 tackles and 20 sacks. He also ran track for the Mustangs and ran a 10.68 100-meter dash in 2015 for a second-place finish in the state meet. He also considered Kansas State, Kentucky and Mississippi State.

Kivon Bennett

Freshman, DT, 6-2, 285, St. Thomas Aquinas High, Hollywood, Florida

247Sports: 3-star (No. 480 overall prospect, No. 40 defensive tackle, No. 65 prospect in Florida).

High School: Bennett helped St. Thomas Aquinas win its third consecutive state championship in 2016 when he had 31 tackles, three sacks and eight quarterback hurries. He had 31 tackles and five sacks as a junior and was MVP of the GEICO State Champions Bowl Series as St. Thomas Aquinas beat Bingham, Utah, 33-25. His father, Cornelius, was a five-time NFL Pro Bowl linebacker who played in the league from 1987-2000. Kivon also considered Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Missouri and Notre Dame.

James Brown

Freshman, TE, 6-4, 220 pounds, Jones High, Orlando, Florida

247Sports: 3-star (No. 1,429 overall prospect, No. 72 tight end, No. 206 prospect in Florida).

High School: Brown was originally a quarterback, but moved to tight end as a senior in 2016. He had 11 catches for 201 yards and one touchdown; rushed for 170 yards and three touchdowns; and threw for 135 yards and three TDs on 16-of-19 passing as the Tigers reached the second round of the state playoffs. Brown also considered Marshall, Florida International, Gardner-Webb, UMass and Florida A&M.

LaTrell Bumphus

Freshman, TE, 6-4, 245 pounds, Hardin County High, Savannah 

247Sports: 3-star (No. 464 overall prospect, No. 26 weak-side defensive end, No. 12 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Bumphus was a two-way player for Hardin County High in 2016 when he had 365 receiving yards and three touchdowns on offense and 38 tackles on defense. Scout.com rated Bumphus the No. 1 tight end in the state in the 2017 class. He also plays baseball at Hardin County and plans to play this spring. He also considered Vanderbilt, Southern Cal, Kentucky and Oregon.

Matthew Butler

Freshman, DT, 6-4, 285 pounds, Garner Senior High, Raleigh, North Carolina

247Sports: 4-star (No. 455 overall prospect, No. 36 strong-side defensive end, No. 12 prospect in North Carolina.)

High School: Butler had 96 tackles, 44 tackles for loss and 26 sacks in 2016 as Garner Senior went 12-2 and reached the Class 4AA East Regional Semifinals. As a junior, he had 65 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks and caught 10 passes for 175 yards and four touchdowns. He also considered Penn State, Duke, N.C. State and Texas A&M.

K’Rojhn Calbert

Freshman, OT, 6-5, 300 pounds, Warren County High, McMinnville

247Sports: 3-star (No. 619 overall prospect, No. 62 offensive tackle, No. 20 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Calbert was chosen to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association all-state team as a senior in 2016, but played little football during his first three years of high school due to knee injuries. He also played basketball and caught scouts’ attention with a 4.9 40-yard dash at camps. He also considered South Carolina.

Ty Chandler

Freshman, RB, 5-11, 190 pounds, Montgomery Bell Academy, Nashville

247Sports: 4-star (No. 68 overall prospect, No. 5 running back, No. 5 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Chandler ranks fifth in TSSAA history in career rushing yards (7,068) and second in career touchdowns (107) and is a two-time Division II-AA Mr. Football Award winner. As a senior, he rushed for 2,252 yards and 39 touchdowns while leading MBA to an 8-2 regular-season record. He rushed for 2,558 yards and 31 touchdowns as a junior. He also considered Ole Miss, Georgia, Auburn, Florida and Southern Cal.

Brent Cimaglia

Freshman, K, 6-0, 215 pounds, Page High, Franklin

247Sports: 2-star (No. 1,341 overall prospect, No. 3 kicker, No. 34 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Cimaglia made all 31 of his PAT attempts in 2016 and was 6-of-11 on field-goal attempts. He had 33 touchbacks on 47 kickoffs and has a career-long 47-yard field goal. He also considered Southern Miss.

Trey Coleman

Freshman, RB, 5-11, 215 pounds, West Monroe High, West Monroe, Louisiana

247Sports: 3-star (No. 605 overall prospect, No. 44 running back, No. 23 prospect in Louisiana.

High School: Coleman led the team in rushing with 1,369 yards and 12 touchdowns as West Monroe finished runner-up in state in Class 5A. As a junior, he rushed for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns and played basketball for West Monroe. He also considered Iowa State, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

Eric Crosby

Freshman, DT, 6-1, 325 pounds, Ocean Lakes High, Virginia Beach, Virginia 

247Sports: 4-star (No. 218 overall prospect, No. 12 defensive tackle, No. 7 prospect in Virginia).

High School: Crosby was a U.S. Army All-American nomination in 2017 and last season was on the Class 6A South All-State first team. As a junior, he helped Ocean Lakes to an unbeaten season and had 50 tackles while also playing running back in postseason (120 yards, four touchdowns). He also considered Virginia Tech.

Maleik Gray

Freshman, S, 6-2, 195 pounds, La Vergne High, La Vergne

247Sports: 4-star (No. 78 overall prospect, No. 10 safety, No. 6 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Gray was a 2016 Under Armour All-American and semifinalist for the Tennessee Titans Class 5A Lineman award as a junior and senior. At the Nike Sparq, Gray ran a 4.44 40-yard dash and had a 39.5 vertical leap. He played basketball in high school. Gray also considered Florida State and Alabama.

Will Ignont

Freshman, LB, 6-2, 230 pounds, Buckhorn High, Huntsville, Alabama

247Sports: 4-star (No. 306 overall prospect, No. 16 inside linebacker, No. 15 prospect in Alabama).

High School: Ignont was on the Class 7A all-state team as a junior and senior and was a U.S. Army All-American Bowl nominee in 2017. He attended IMG Academy in spring of 2016, and as a senior had 131 tackles and 22 tackles for loss. He also considered Auburn, Alabama and LSU.

Theo Jackson

Freshman, S, 6-2, 175 pounds, Overton High

247Sports: 3-star (No. 530 overall prospect, No. 37 safety, No. 17 prospect in Tennessee).

High School: Jackson had five interceptions as a senior in 2016 and was Defensive MVP of Region 3-6A, earned TSWA Class 6A all-state honors and was on The Tennessean newspaper’s Dandy Dozen team. As a junior, Jackson had 33 tackles and three interceptions and doubled as a wide receiver with 18 catches for 232 yards and five touchdowns. He also considered Vanderbilt, Alabama and Louisville.

Jacquez Jones

Freshman, WR, 5-10, 165 pounds, Clearwater High, Clearwater, Florida 

247Sports: 3-star (No. 911 overall prospect, No. 133 wide receiver, No. 126 prospect in Florida).

High School: Jones had 57 catches for 1,004 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior in 2016 and also rushed for 244 yards and four touchdowns on 23 carries as Clearwater had an undefeated regular season. As a junior, Jones had 51 catches for 974 yards and eight TDs and rushed for 348 yards and five TDs on 38 carries. He was an all-state player as a senior and honorable mention selection as a junior. Jones also considered Central Florida, Kentucky, Miami, Indiana and Wisconsin.

Tim Jordan

Freshman, RB, 6-0, 190 pounds, Bartow High, Winterhaven, Florida 

247Sports: 3-star (No. 1,635 overall prospect, No. 93 running back, No. 244 prospect in Florida).

High School: Jordan rushed for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016 and was chosen to the Class 7A all-state third team. He also played basketball for Bartow. Jordan originally committed to Western Kentucky and also considered North Carolina and Purdue.

Cheyenne Labruzza

Freshman, CB, 5-11, 190 pounds, Albany High, Albany, Louisiana

247Sports: 3-star (No. 428 overall prospect, No. 44 cornerback, No. 16 prospect in Louisiana).

High School: Labruzza was signed as a cornerback, but also played wide receiver and tailback at Albany, scoring 10 touchdowns as a senior in 2016 before having season-ending meniscus surgery in October. He had 26 tackles in six games as a cornerback. Labruzza also considered Florida and LSU.

Jordan Murphy

WR, 5-11, 170 pounds, Hattiesburg High, Hattiesburg, Mississippi 

247Sports: 4-star (No. 348 overall prospect, No. 50 wide receiver, No. 8 prospect in Mississippi).

High School: Murphy had 78 catches for 1,695 yards and 21 touchdowns as a senior in 2016 and was a U.S. Army All-American Bowl nominee. As a junior, Murphy had 50 catches for 844 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also returned kicks and punts. Murphy also considered Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State.

Solon Page III

Freshman, LB, 6-2, 205 pounds, Kell High, Marietta, Georgia

247Sports: 3-star (No. 590 overall prospect, No. 38 outside linebacker, No. 60 prospect in Georgia).

High School: Page was Georgia’s Class 5A defensive player of the year in 2016 and a Parade All-American honorable mention selection after posting 178 tackles (123 solo) with 23 tackles for loss as Kell went 11-3. He attended The Opening Atlanta and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash. As a junior, Page had 110 tackles and 15 tackles for loss. He also considered Rutgers, North Carolina and Virginia.

Josh Palmer

Freshman, WR, 6-2, 200 pounds, St. Thomas Aquinas High, Fort Lauderdale, Florida/Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

247Sports: 3-star (No. 827 overall prospect, No. 120 wide receiver, No. 111 prospect in Florida).

High School: Palmer had 32 catches for 506 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior in 2016 and was on the Class 7A All-State second team. He helped St. Thomas Aquinas win the Class 7A state title in 2016. Palmer originally committed to Syracuse and also considered Penn State and UCLA.

Shawn Shamburger

Freshman, CB, 5-11, 180 pounds, Colquitt High, Moultrie, Georgia

247Sports: 3-star (National N/A, No. 111 cornerback, No. 104 prospect in Georgia)

High School: Shamburger was the All-Region 1-7A Utility Player of the Year and was on the Class 7A all-state honorable mention team) after posting 51 tackles and five interceptions and catching nine passes for 110 yards and a TD. He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash as a member of Colquitt’s track team. Shamburger originally committed to Louisiana-Lafayette and also considered Auburn and Ole Miss.

Ryan Thaxton

Freshman, DE, 6-5, 230 pounds, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, Alexandria, Virginia

247Sports: 3-star (No. 828 national, No. 40 strong-side defensive end, No. 23 prospect in Virginia).

High School: Thaxton originally committed to Virginia, but committed to Tennessee after a visit in mid-January. He also considered Vanderbilt and Ole Miss.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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