Every sign pointed toward Tommy Townsend sticking with his family's tradition at the University of Florida.
Except a trip to a University of Tennessee junior day, followed by a subsequent visit to the Vols' specialists camp, changed everything for Townsend, Rivals.com's No. 5 kicker in the country from Orlando's Boone High School. The athletic 6-foot-1, 180-pound Townsend, a consensus top-target kicker nationally who also plays safety, committed to Tennessee Monday afternoon --- the Vols' fifth commitment in barely 48 hours.
"It's actually a funny story. All my family has gone to Florida," Townsend told VolQuest.com less than five minutes after hanging up with UT coach Butch Jones. "My oldest brother is up there studying pre-med. My middle brother between me and the oldest is Johnny, and he's punter there at Florida as well.
"Basically, what's been going on is since Day 1, I've really wanted to go to Tennessee. From the junior day, I just loved the place. When I went back to camp, everything was great; just still in love with the place. I had the idea then that's where I wanted to be. After camp I was waiting and hoping on the offer, that was the number 1 place on my list. I was very excited when I got it, which was on Wednesday. Unfortunately, I had to wait to commit. My parents and family wanted me to wait till I got home because I was out at the Chris Sailer Camp. A couple of friends committed out there to Missouri (Corey Fatony) and Toledo (Jameson Vest). So, it was a pretty big weekend out there for recruiting and commitments to college."
Sailer told Rivals.com/VolQuest.com that Townsend had shined last week at camp and that the Vols would be getting a punter with tremendous potential.
"We had the top 40 guys pretty much in the world out here in California. Maybe 10 high school punters, and Tommy is by far and away a top national prospect," Sailer said. "No doubt he's a scholarship player. I love his upside, leg strength, athleticism, attitude, character; everything you look for in student-athlete, he has it."
Sailer said he also had Johnny Townsend in camp and is "excited to see them both in the SEC. They may get to compete against one another one day. That's awesome." Sailer, a renowned national kicking expert, also heaped high praise on the younger Townsend's top-end abilities and in Townsend's understanding that he must learn much more.
"I would say that when u look at his best ball, it's the best ball in the country," Sailer told Rivals/VolQuest.com. "He gets tremendous distance and hang-time when he connects. He's a competitor. So what I like is really his upside. He has so many things going for him. His potential, his best ball and his development is spot-on. All points toward him being a top national punter.
"Consistency and what [high school specialists] don't understand is speed of the game [are areas to work on]. Operation time, all that. Tommy is very well coached. He's not perfect yet, but no one is in high school. You can't understand it until you're actually under that pressure, getting used to the speed of the game. But I don't see it being an issue whatsoever. Again, I really, really like Tommy's upside."
Prepping for a seven-on-seven game this afternoon, Townsend called Jones to deliver the knows and inform the Vols' coach that Townsend had found the "perfect" fit on Rocky Top.
"He was just ecstatic. Said he couldn't wait, said he can't wait for me to get up here and continue the great tradition of special teams up there with Colquitts and that whole group," Townsend said. "I was looking at a wall of pics of people and their names. Ricky Townsend was a barefoot kicker there in the '70s and saw his (All-America) photo. I actually took a picture of it. So that was pretty cool.
"I just felt like that's the place to be, the place I wanted to be. I want to get a little bit away from home but not too far where it's a pain to get back. I just felt like Rocky Top was perfect place. And actually, we have a family farm up there about an hour and a half from Knoxville in Del Rio."
With a career-long punt last season that measured 65 yards and more than four seconds' hang-time against rival University (Orlando) High School, Townsend said he feels like he possesses the skills to both boom punts and elicit fair catches. He also noted he would be rounding out his skills as a specialist this season by handling all duties for his school.
"I think definitely one of my strengths is being able to, depending on the situation, is get deep in territory or get lots of hang on the ball and get fair catches," said Townsend, who said he'd grown up playing a variety of positions on the gridiron and still loves a good hit across the middle at safety as much as a big punt. "They both get me very hyped up. I get a great feeling either way. I get very excited when I hit a big ball during a game. Longest I had was 65 yards this past year, with about 4.8 seconds of hang time. That's the biggest ball I've had yet."
The Rivals.com three-star and top-five kicker had been heavily recruited by Colorado, Miami and Auburn before choosing the Vols.