February 13, 2013
Quick, fast and in a hurry
With the accelerated recruiting calendar there's no down time when it comes to recruiting, especially for Tennessee's new staff led by head coach Butch Jones. While signing day 2013 may have officially signaled the end to the class of 2013, it would be unwise to think of it as the start date of the class of 2014.
But, with the ability to shift attention from Jones' first class that was patched together over six weeks, the first-year Vol head coach will have more than 365 days to put together an extremely important class.
While there's no doubt the past two months were important for Tennessee's previous signing class, there's also little doubt that the months of February and March are now almost as important as any months on the recruiting calendar because of junior days and early contact.
"It's critical. Now days the recruiting process is so accelerated, everything is expedited so to speak. The big thing is getting them back on your campus. Not just one time, but for multiple visits," Jones said last week in Nashville.
Getting prospective student athletes on campus will be the theme over the next few months leading up to the always important Orange and White Game on April 20 as Tennessee hopes to show off what it has to offer.
Just over 10 days ago Jones hosted his first junior day in Knoxville and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said junior days are as important as ever because you want the first impression to be a lasting one as the staff is brand new and will likely be the first time most have talked at length in person with recruits.
"Very, very, very important. Again, relationships and first impressions, that's key. We always say if you're able to get a guy on campus, you better take advantage of that opportunity because you may not be able to get him back on campus," Bajakian said. "These kids are being courted by a lot of different school so you better make sure that everything that that player knows is fed to him and you try to make that quick connection on a personal level and a professional level. It's important to start that process now, especially with that accelerated rate at which the process is moving. Recruiting, it's amazing every year, the process is getting faster, faster and faster and they are making their decisions earlier, earlier and earlier and you have to make that first impression."
Another way Tennessee hopes to help itself is with being the first, or one of the first, to offer. While at Cincinnati, Jones and his staff had little problem with offering early to make an early impression on recruits.
"Coach Jones always says it's about first impressions. It's about first impressions when they come on campus. It's about first impressions when we go into their school or into their home and nothing makes a better first impression than being the first to offer, or at least in the beginning," Bajakian offered. "It doesn't take away from the fact that you need to be thorough in your evaluations. But, if you've done your due diligence and your research and all the Ts are crossed and Is are dotted we have no problem with making that early offer to show the early guys we'll make a commitment to you."
Even with or without the offer, veteran coach and ace recruiter Tommy Thigpen said it's important to have them on campus multiple times over the next few months leading into the summer.
"It's big, especially in the state of Tennessee. We want to get as many kids here from not only 2014, but 2015 as well. Then, with spring practice coming around you want to get them out to practice and you want to let them see the tempo of practice. You want to get them to your big scrimmage and then get them on campus a couple of times in the summer time," Thigpen said. "This spring is really vital and parts of the summer is really vital that you get all the traffic. You want high traffic and you want high caliber players coming through and getting a buzz out about Tennessee."
But, don't expect junior days to all look the same according to recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. The junior day is no longer the first contact with recruits, it's become a more intimate introduction to the program.
"I think you try and get them on campus anyway you can and any time you can. The old cookie-cutter junior days are a thing of the past," Azzanni said. "You try and have some elite days to get the guys on campus you've offered early, but the days of having three or 400 kids on a junior day because you're not sure who the players are are kind of gone. You know who the players are for the most part. There's always a handful of kids that all of the sudden have a good summer and blow up or have a good fall and blow up. But, they're huge. We'll be on the phone every day, we'll be on twitter, on facebook. We'll get the coaches to get the kids to call us back because it will all change on August 1st when the rules change again. So, these two months are big."
One thing that will help Tennessee over the next few months as they continue to have prospects on campus is the fact that while all but Jay Graham have changed schools, a number of them still have previous relationships with players close to Tennessee.
Thigpen still knows plenty of players in Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas. Tight ends coach Mark Elder recruited the state of Tennessee heavily for several years. Azzanni and Martinez both hit South Florida hard.
"The names that are in the database are the guys that are close to here. The Atlanta kids, the Birmingham kids, even some Florida kids and South Carolina and North Carolina kids. We've identified a bunch of them and now it's time to make sure you get them on campus," Thigpen said. "And if you go back and you look at where the kids went, more than likely they've been on campus three or four times. Parents have gone there on numerous occasions and that's what we want to do. On your junior days you want to get the kids, coaches, parents, everyone that's involved in the kid's decision on our campus multiple times."
And the visits continue this weekend as the Vols are expected to host numerous big-name prospects for Jones' second weekend.
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