NCF On The Trail: Tennessee Volunteers

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.

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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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: A lot of eyebrows were raised when class of 2017 quarterback Tate Martell committed to Washington, but he proved this past Friday night he’s the real deal. Plus, Oklahoma won’t only be hosting Tennessee next weekend, but the Sooners are also expected to bring in more than 13 impact recruits on official visits. We also continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
There were several key SEC games over the weekend and plenty of recruiting news to go along with them. From Texas A&M’s impressive victory over South Carolina to Georgia’s dominating second half performance against Clemson, recruits from all over the country had a chance to finally see teams they are considering in action. Here is a closer look at some of the top recruiting news around the SEC.

Texas A&M catches the attention of top recruits

Even though Texas A&M has put together a tremendous recruiting class this year, many expected it to be a down year on the field for the Aggies. After all A&M lost three first-round draft picks including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Much to the delight of the Aggie faithful, Texas A&M dominated SEC East opponent South Carolina last Thursday evening.

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: ESPN 300 defensive lineman Darian Roseboro will announce his decision live on Friday, and if things go as expected, it will be a banner day for NC State. Plus, Virginia Tech hosts a cupcake this week, but more importantly it also hosts several elite prospects. And we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

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Tennessee is pulling out all the stops to recruit ESPN 300 defensive tackle Shy Tuttle.

Tuttle, the No. 31 recruit in the ESPN 300 who also holds offers from fellow SEC schools Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina, tweeted this inventive recruiting poster from the Vols.

Apparently, Beyoncé is in on rebuilding the Vols #BrickByBrick, as they say in Knoxville.

Recruiting changing in up-tempo era 

August, 25, 2014
Aug 25
The SEC, a league that is known for its hard-nose, physical style of play is slowly transforming into a spread-offense, up-tempo league. It's a change that hasn't happened overnight and teams like Alabama, LSU, Georgia, with their pro-style offenses, will always have their imprint on the toughest league in all of college football.

With fast-paced offenses such as Auburn, Missouri, Ole Miss and Texas A&M having much success over the last few years, it's forcing defenses to change their philosophy on who they recruit to defend against these spread attacks.

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound middle linebackers are dwindling and replacing them are hybrid linebackers that can rush the passer and run sideline-to-sideline. There are 23 outside linebackers committed to SEC schools currently, all but one, Darrell Williams, weigh less than 220 pounds. There are only four inside linebackers committed to SEC schools.

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: To win at the highest level, Arkansas has to keep the elite local recruits at home. Bret Bielema has done a so-so job of that so far, but if he can land K.J. Hill this week that might help give the Razorbacks some much needed recruiting momentum. Plus, five-star Torrance Gibson put on a show on national television Sunday and potentially gave fans a glimpse as to where he’s leaning, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

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Peach State ESPN 300 offensive tackle Venzell Boulware is on board with the Tennessee Volunteers. Below, see what his commitment means for Tennessee:

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Early Offer: Tough weekend for Tide 

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Alabama doesn’t lose too many recruiting battles, but the Crimson Tide suffered not just one but two stinging defeats over the weekend. Plus, Wisconsin’s classes never grab national headlines but the 2015 class is a good one, and we continue our tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting news across the country. Today’s offerings: Michigan fans have had to stomach some serious ups and downs with the 2015 recruiting cycle, but Wolverine fans looking for positive news can look at the job they've done locally. Plus, Oklahoma is looking to load up at running back and our daily tour of the top recruiting happenings on social media.

[+] EnlargeMike Weber
Tom Hauck for Student SportsRunning back Mike Weber was a big in-state commitment for Michigan.
1. Michigan fans have had to endure an up-and-down recruiting cycle so far in 2015. Early on it looked like the Wolverines were in position to pass Ohio State as the best class in the B1G. But when elite prospects such as running back Damien Harris and athlete George Campbell decommitted, Michigan slid to around the No. 20 range in the class rankings. There’s a chance Michigan could stay there if things don’t go well on the field this season, but if you’re looking for a positive spin on things, take a look at how the Wolverines have done in state in 2015. When ESPN 300 running back Mike Weber committed late last week, it gave Michigan pledges from three of the top four players in-state. Included in that list is Michigan’s top-ranked player, ESPN 300 athlete Brian Cole.

2. Few schools can match the running back tradition Oklahoma has, and with the question marks surrounding Joe Mixon’s future in Norman, the Sooners have made landing multiple running backs a priority in the 2015 class. The good news is that ESPN 300 rusher Rodney Anderson is already on board, and he should fit the Sooners' offense well with his ability to make big plays in the passing game and on the ground. But also keep an eye on OU with ESPN 300 running backs Tyreik Gray and Soso Jamabo. Both are expected to take official visits and could be excellent complements to Anderson in the class.

3. One of the best prospects in the 2016 class has made a commitment to play in the Under Armour All-America Game. Quarterback Malik Henry, the No. 2 player in the ESPN Junior 300 and the top-passer in the 2016 class, announced via Twitter he’s playing in the annual all-star game. Henry recently listed a final four of Notre Dame, UCLA, Ohio State and Florida State.

Ten years ago today, highly coveted receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey out of Silver Springs (Maryland) McDonogh went public with his commitment to Maryland. The Terps beat out Alabama and North Carolina for his commitment, and even back then in high school he was known as a speedster. He was timed by his high school coach at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash. At Maryland, he improved his speed -- including a school-reported 4.23-second time in the 40 -- and become one of the ACC's best receivers. He finished his career second in school history in career receiving yards, third in receptions and tied for third in touchdown catches. After running a 4.3 40-time at the NFL combine, Heyward-Bey was selected by the Oakland Raiders as the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. He spent four years with the Raiders, one year with the Indianapolis Colts and is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Social Studies
Social media continues to be one of the most amazing windows into how a school recruits. More and more of those involved with the recruiting process are posting the mailings they receive from schools for the entire world to see. And the mailing from Florida State that was posted on Facebook by Butler (Kansas) Community College coach Troy Morrell caught my attention. For all of the success the Noles have had with high school targets, it’s easy to forget they’ve had plenty of success with two-year prospects also. This mailer highlights some of those success stories, including Tank Carradine and Markus White, who played for Morrell at Butler.

ESPN 300 safety Cameron Ordway surprised some observers when he tweeted Thursday he was going to stretch the recruiting process out some. In July, he tweeted he was going to announce his decision in mid-August between Tennessee, Ole Miss, Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State. The Vols are still projected as the team to beat with Ordway.