NCF On The Trail: Tennessee Volunteers

Early Offer: Why MSU going big in 2015 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
What happens when you have a large senior class about to graduate? You target a large recruiting class like Mississippi State is in 2015. Michigan’s recruiting remains in chaos, as another Wolverine commit is having second thoughts.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
There was a ton of big recruiting news from around the Southeastern Conference this weekend. Several top prospects made their verbal commitments, Georgia flipped an FSU commit, and Missouri -- despite its big win against South Carolina on Saturday -- lost a commitment. Here is a closer look at the top recruiting news from around the conference.

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Best of the visits: SEC

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
There were some great games around the SEC over the weekend. Several prospects attended games while others watched on television and used social media as a platform to share their experiences. Here's a look at some of the top social media posts from the weekend:

ESPN 300 tight end and Texas A&M commit Jordan Davis tweeted out a photo of himself with three other ESPN 300 Aggies commits: James Lockhart, Larry Pryor and Justin Dunning. The four players were in attendance for Texas A&M’s thrilling 35-28 overtime win against Arkansas Saturday afternoon.


Four-star athlete DeAndre McNeal looks as if he also enjoyed his time in Arlington, Texas, for the Aggies game. The talented prospect tweeted a photo of himself with former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel's family members. McNeal is also scheduled to visit UCLA, Miami and Oklahoma State later this year.


Georgia picked up a huge commitment from ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Chauncey Manac Saturday. Manac also visited Georgia for its big win over Tennessee. He is the third 2016 commit for the Bulldogs, and all three are ranked in the ESPN Junior 300.


The seventh-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Deontay Anderson, took an unofficial to Auburn Saturday for its 45-17 win over Louisiana Tech. This photo was captured on one of his social media accounts by ESPN national recruiting analyst Gerry Hamilton.


The No. 1-ranked running back in the country, Damien Harris, visited Kentucky this weekend for the Wildcats' 17-7 win over SEC East foe Vanderbilt. A fan captured this photo of Harris hanging out with Kentucky commit Eli Brown. Harris also tweeted about his experience in Lexington.


LSU 2017 commitment Dylan Moses posed for a photo at midfield at Tiger Stadium on Saturday while on an unofficial visit to watch LSU pound New Mexico State 63-7. Moses' father, Edward Moses, tweeted the photo.


SEC's top recruiting visits 

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
There are once again some big games around the SEC this weekend. While Arkansas vs Texas A&M might be the game of the week in the conference, it is a neutral site game and not many visitors are expected to attend. The Tennessee at Georgia game, however, is expected to draw many top recruits. Vanderbilt at Kentucky and Missouri at South Carolina should also expect to see some important visitors. There will be many recruits taking unofficial visits and even a few taking a few official visits. Here’s a closer look at some top expected visitors for the weekend.

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Youth a recruiting pitch for Vols, Cats 

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
Either Tennessee hit a home run with its 2014 recruiting class or the Volunteers are playing with fire. Either way, the Volunteers are taking a big gamble with their freshmen.

Head coach Butch Jones has played 71 percent (22 of 29) of his true freshmen — an incredible stat that some coaches might be scared to advertise for fear that future opponents might try to take advantage of inexperienced players. Jones, however, has taken the opposite approach and is using the fact as a recruiting tool.

The official Tennessee football Twitter account has tweeted out several stats about how many freshmen have played, and behind the scenes, the Volunteers' staff is not shy about telling recruits they are young and need more talented prospects to play early and add depth to an improving roster.

Tennessee assistant athletic director Jason Yellin appeared almost proud to share how many freshmen have played this year.

"We have played the most in the nation, 22,” Yellin said in an email. "For comparison, last year’s high was 18 by UCLA. We have started seven so far and could potentially start two more on Saturday at Georgia."

A rival recruiter believes Kevin Sumlin’s not-so-subtle message to former Texas A&M pledge DaMarkus Lodge could come back to haunt the Aggies. Plus, one of Florida’s top defensive commitments appears to be looking around.

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Video: Abernathy updates his recruiting

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
ESPN 300 cornerback Micah Abernathy talks about his recent trip to Oregon and names his favorites thus far.

UA jersey tour: WR Preston Williams

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
HAMPTON, Ga. -- ESPN 300 wide receiver and Tennessee commitment Preston Williams was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey Friday afternoon.

Williams understands the magnitude of this honor for his school and community, but is balancing the numerous accolades with a laser focus on his senior season at Lovejoy High.

"I mean, it’s really big," Williams said. "...Right now, we are focused on the season and the road to the dome and trying to win a state championship. It’s big, but right now we are focused as a team on this season."

Lovejoy head coach Edgar Carson has had a front-row seat to watch Williams not only grow as a player, but as a person.

"I came here when Preston was a freshman. He was a raw athlete and you could see the talent, but he has continued to grow. I think running track has helped him, as well as playing other sports," Carson said. "He has grown on the football field, but has also grown off the football field, too. Preston is a different guy. He's into modeling, he's into fashion and he markets himself. He gets along with his teammates well, and gets along with all types of kids real well. You might see him sitting at a table with all types of kids, he takes to everyone and is good for this school."

Williams committed to Tennessee one year ago this Sunday, and has remained solid in his pledge to the Volunteers even though programs such as Georgia, Florida and Auburn have continued to try their best to chip away at Williams’ verbal pledge.

Seven questions with Preston Williams

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?

Williams: I’ve pretty much seen them all. They are all good athletes, and we are all there for a reason. I’m not going to sit here and call out anybody, but I think people should be wanting to go against me. I’m dangerous. I’m underrated. There isn’t anybody I’m really looking for.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be and why?

Williams: My boy Kahlil [McKenzie]. He’s a great guy. We can run a team together. He can run a defense, and I can run the offense. We would make a really good team.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?

Williams: Probably Julio [Jones]. He’s a jack-of-all-trades man. He’s physical, he’s big and he’s fast. Alabama probably could have got him the ball more, because he’s great.

What is your earliest football memory?

Williams: Wearing number 65 and playing running back. I was probably six years old. It was crazy. I was more of a baseball freak. I didn’t start loving football until middle school really.

Which football player did you idolize or want to be like when you were a kid?

Williams: I always thought I was Peyton Manning. I can throw, I mean I think I could have played quarterback because of baseball. Peyton Manning has always been my favorite quarterback.

What number do you wear and why?

Williams:I wear number 11. The reason is because 1-on-1, I’m the most dangerous.

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Williams: I don’t even know. I think everybody knows everything about me. People think that I’m going to flip, or go to Alabama a lot and will end up there. I don’t know why people think that.

Video: Breaking down Kahlil McKenzie

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

National recruiting analysts Craig Haubert and Tom Luginbill take to the touch screen to break down the tape of Tennessee commit Kahlil McKenzie, showing how scouts evaluate defensive tackle game film.

Early Offer: Sunderland a key get for OU 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
Oklahoma landed two high-profile recruits this weekend, but scoring a pledge from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. is about as big as it gets. Plus, Boston College will be able to use its victory over then top-10 USC as a big selling point on the recruiting trail.

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UA jersey tour: DE Andrew Butcher

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Butcher was presented with his Under Armour All-America Game jersey on Thursday in a ceremony sponsored by America Family. The ceremony took place on the field at Alpharetta High School with a large crowd of family members, teammates, students, faculty members and the entire Alpharetta coaching staff looking on.

Alpharetta High head coach Jacob Nichols said the latest heavily recruited prospect out of the school is a very mature and focused athlete and student.

“He’s a great kid, a very hard working kid and his parents have done a very good job instilling all those values in him,” Nichols said. “He’s never the kind of kid you have to worry about. He’s all about business, very mature for his age and is focused on what he wants to do in the future.”

On the field, the No. 67 prospect in the ESPN 300 plays the game with a relentless attitude and motor.

“Well obviously, he’s got good size and great strength. He’s a very hard worker, but beyond that he plays like an animal," Nichols said. "He’s a very hard worker, he gets after it on every play and you never have to worry about loafing. He’s one of those kids that plays at full speed, and he only knows one speed. That is what you get out of him every time. He certainly makes my job easier, and our defensive coaches job easier because of the type of effort he plays with every down.”

Butcher committed to Tennessee in June 2013 and has remained 100 percent solid with his pledge ever since. He entertained offers from Stanford and Notre Dame seriously before deciding on the Volunteers.

Eight questions with Andrew Butcher

Who is one player you are looking forward to competing against?

Butcher: I’m probably looking forward most to going against Jack Jones so I can shut him up with all his trash talking [laughing]. We are going to be going at it in practice every day there.

If you were to start a team with any other player in your class, who would it be?

Butcher: Probably Kahlil McKenzie because it’s another defensive tackle on the defensive line that could take up a double team and allow me to wreak havoc on the outside. That would be nice.

Who is the best player to ever play in the Under Armour game that you know of?

Butcher: I would probably go [Jadeveon] Clowney because he is just a freak of nature.

What is your earliest football memory? What about college football?

Butcher: Winning the championship in my first year [youth league] at six years old. It’s my only championship, and I really want to change that. College football was Clemson games. I always went to Clemson games because my dad played at Clemson, and I grew up a Clemson fan from when I was really young.

Which football player did you idolize or be like when you were a kid?

Butcher: Probably Da'Quan Bowers. I was just starting to play defensive end when he was coming up, and I just wanted to play like him and be dominant in high school and get drafted in the NFL.

If you could take on any pro player in their sport, who would it be?

Butcher: I don’t really know offensive linemen in the NFL because they don’t get much hype. I will say I would like to sack Drew Brees and Tom Brady. That would be nice.

What number do you wear and why?

Butcher: I wear 58. I got assigned it coming in my freshman year. I didn’t have a choice, I was assigned it, but I have made it my own and if it’s available on the next level I will try to wear it.

What is the one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

Butcher: I’m a member of the Georgia Big Foot society. I don’t think many people would know that. It’s just a society my dad signed me up for. There are meetings, but I have never been to one [laughing].
Beyonce tells Rolling Stone why you belong at Tennessee. Kentucky sees a 30 for 30 film featuring you in the future. Georgia thinks you would look just fine in red and black -- and has already developed the portraits to prove it.

Welcome to the graphic design arm of the college football recruiting world, where the modern-day Mad Men of the sport reside.

These are the guys behind the guys, tailoring posters and faux magazine covers to the Joey Five-Stars of the world and watching their works spread virally through word of mouth and the ever-friendly retweet button. They come from different corners of the athletic office, from the video department to the fundraising department. They bring with them athletic backgrounds and different tools. Like the athletes they work with, they carry short memories.

"We have to weigh the ideas before we send them out because any bad idea, and you're tap-dancing at that point and kind of backtracking and saying, 'Where did we go wrong?,'" said Jonathan King, Tennessee director of graphic design and branding.

The 32-year-old King has experienced no shortage of highlights in a tenure with the Volunteers that spans just a bit longer than that of second-year head coach Butch Jones. A fake Rolling Stone cover with Queen Bey herself -- aimed at ESPN four-star tackle Shy Tuttle last month -- was the latest in a wave of Tennessee recruiting efforts that sent social media into a frenzy.

King praised Jones for the creative freedom with which he allows King's department to operate, calling the coach an "idea guy."

"The first thing he said is, 'You're good at what you do. I'm a gas guy, not a brakes guy. So you go forward,'" King said.

King came to Knoxville after working for more than seven years at Alabama, where the Tuscaloosa native attended college. While with the Crimson Tide, King worked with Buddy Overstreet, whose duties ranged from producing highlight videos to designing media guide covers. During his tenure from 2005-13, Overstreet said his team grew from just him and King to roughly nine or 10 full-timers.

They have seen their value grow significantly here in the digital age, with recruiting more publicized and competitive than ever. An innovative graphic can go viral in a hurry, whereas standard mail takes several days to arrive and fails to leave much of an impact on anyone outside of the recipient's household.

"It's funny: You've got people that I follow on Twitter that I would consider industry titans in what I do, and they're struggling to get 2,000 followers," Overstreet said. "And you've got a kid who's a four- or five-star prospect and they're already in the thousands, their brands are exploding. So they're on that medium so much."

And they communicate with each other much more often. Fancy hashtags regularly take off among prospects pledged to the same schools, as they get to know each other before officially becoming teammates. Every recruit can see and share what others in that class have received from schools, and the right combination can catch fire quickly, creating the perfect social media storm.

Fake magazine covers like the one featuring Beyonce are hardly unique designs, but the right prospect and the right followers can help it spread. Tuttle -- the No. 1 player in North Carolina for the Class of 2015, with offers from virtually every national power -- has nearly 6,000 Twitter followers. His tweet of the periodical has garnered more than 500 retweets. The picture made "SportsCenter."

This also creates pressure for the senders, lest they appear out of touch when trying to connect with teenagers.

"My wife jokes I know all the new music and artists," said King, "but I have to, to remain culturally relevant to what these kids want to see."

The tenor of social media only heightens errors, with schools like Michigan gaining notoriety this offseason for misspelling "All-America" on a drawn-up ESPN The Magazine cover sent to eventual commit Mike Weber, a four-star running back.

When Overstreet left Alabama last August to start his own branding company, Perpetual Notion, he received a good-natured parting gift for his home office, a sign that read: "Designers are not English majors, so always check for mispellings." (The pun being that the last word was, ahem, misspelled.)

Overstreet, who joked that he is a disciple of Don Draper from “Mad Men,” said he is prudent about conflicts, as he tries to avoid working with rival schools or schools from the same conference.

Timing is everything with design. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly used the example of May's NFL draft to demonstrate how important it is to turn something around quickly, as the Fighting Irish had eight players drafted this year, tied for second most nationally.

"It's always about sense of urgency, right?" said Kelly shortly after the draft, adding, "My eight draftable players, I want something out right now, and I want it all over the place. [If] it comes tomorrow, that's a little late. I like it yesterday."

The most rewarding work, however, is often marketed to the widest range of consumers. King considers Tennessee's "Rise to the Top" campaign, which marked the start of the Jones era, his proudest moment during his time with the Volunteers. The slogan played off the school's "Rocky Top" theme while speaking of a road and not a destination. A public relations blitz featured a donor website and area billboards plastered with the new coach's image. King likened it to "the process" theme that has become so intertwined with Alabama, which itself needed a new identity before Nick Saban arrived in 2007.

"I had never been a part of creating something that spread so quickly, and it was fun to see it generate its own momentum outside of what I was doing," said King of Tennessee's campaign. "Fans took ahold of it and used it in hashtags."

That might be a foreign term to King's 1960s predecessors, but who knew some of their Madison Avenue ideals would take root in athletic departments half a century later?

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
Despite the weak slate of SEC football games over the weekend there was still a lot of news in the world of recruiting. From commitments, to big offers, to decision dates to sick one-handed interceptions, this weekend was full of news. Here’s a closer look at the latest happening from around the SEC.

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Best of the visits: SEC

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
The slate of games in the Southeastern Conference weren’t overly impressive this weekend, but there were several prospects who did take unofficial visits. From five-star defensive ends Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson making a return trip to Florida to watch the Gators dismantle Eastern Michigan 65-0 to new Kentucky commit Jeremiah Dinson witnessing the Wildcats beat Ohio 20-7 — several recruits used social media to show highlights from their trip. Here’s a closer look at some of the top social media posts from recruits around the SEC this weekend.

Dinson, a 6-foot, 180-pounds cornerback from Miami (Fla.) American announced he was committing to Kentucky during an unofficial visit to Lexington. Dinson also had offers from Arkansas, Connecticut, NC State and several others.
Tennessee picked up a big commitment from ESPN Junior 300 defensive back Marquill Osborne. The product of Hough High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, is the 130th-ranked player in the class of 2016 and committed to the Vols during an unofficial visit to Knoxville. Arguably the top sophomore in the country, Dylan Moses, visited LSU on Saturday and his father, Edward Moses, tweeted a picture of his son and current LSU running back Leonard Fournette who scored his first collegiate touchdown on Saturday night. Moses, a Baton Rouge native, is already committed to the Tigers. Five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson visited Florida for the second consecutive week and took a selfie in front of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Jefferson won't announce his decision until signing day but the Gators appear to be one of his favorites. Another ESPN 300 prospect, Ryan Davis, also visited Florida on Saturday. Davis was impressed by Florida's offense, including freshmen Treo Harris who threw for 148 yards and two touchdowns on only two completions.
Tennessee under Butch Jones has quickly become one of the country's top recruiting programs in terms of talent identification, organization, use of social media and understanding of how to win recruiting battles through “showing love.” On Saturday, before the opening kickoff against Arkansas State, the Volunteers added yet another ESPN Junior 300 prospect in Marquill Osborne.

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