HEAD COACH BUTCH JONES
"Good afternoon, everyone. It's an exciting day in our Tennessee football program as we welcome 21 individuals into our football family. There's a lot that goes into a recruiting class, and there's a lot of great people here at UT that have done a great job of helping us assemble our recruiting class. I'd like to start off by thanking our coaches. I thought they did a tremendous job of helping and building relationships during a very short period of time-31 days to be exact, with the permissible recruiting days that we've had to assemble this class. Recruiting is a relationship business. With all the challenges and obstacles, they did a great job of assembling a class that I think will represent the University of Tennessee not only on the field but off the field. I'm very proud of these individuals for showing their loyalty and their belief in our football program, but also respecting the values and traditions associated with this program. A lot of things go into it, including our coaches' wives. The many trips all over the country to be involved in the recruiting weekends, the ice storms, all the things of getting them to Knoxville. Also the people in the university community, starting with Dave Hart to the many professors and administrative staff; the academic support services. They all do a tremendous job here at Tennessee."
"The other thing is our fans. Our fans do a great job of creating a lot of positive energy and pride relative to the importance and the magnitude that Tennessee football and our football program has to the State of Tennessee and the entire country. Lastly, couldn't have done it without the Tennessee Air Force-all the great donors who lend us their planes to help us with plane travel. We put extra miles on in these 31 days, and I would be remiss if I didn't bring them up at this time."
"The challenge begins now to develop these individuals on a day-to-day basis to make sure they're better football players, better people, and better students because they're part of our football program. Everyone wants to win the recruiting battles, but what we forget is these are 17- or 18-year-old individuals who have never taken a snap of college football, so to sit here and say who's going to start as true freshman, who will play right away will be directly dictated by how they develop. For those of us who have been around, we all know that each individual develops and matures at a different level. Each has a different skill set. The other challenging part of assembling this class and coming in with this staff was identifying the needs of this football program. How many scholarships did we have to give? How many linemen did we need? How many quarterbacks did we need? That process then became finding and identifying the talent."
"We were extremely selective in this process. This is our third time doing this. I think a lot of times when you're late, you tend to offer scholarships that you look back and wish you had kept. We were extremely selective in the process. We had a formula for the type of player that we need to attract here in Knoxville. I think we were able to attract high level character players, and that was the foundation. A lot of coaches say, "We're going to live it every day in our football program. It stems with a passion for a college degree and a family background. And then, do they fit in? Do they fit the criteria we're looking for? We're very fortunate and blessed to have five individuals who have joined our program immediately. They've graduated high school and they're in our strength and conditioning program now. I'm going to test them in their speaking skills and introduce themselves. (Corey Vereen, Winter Garden, FL; Riyadh Jones, Columbus, GA; Paul Harris, Acokeek, MD; Lemond Johnson, Cooper City, FL) We have the fifth addition who's being a student-athlete right now and attending class. With that, I'll answer any questions."
(On being frantic or calm in the process)
"Well, we've been there. There's nothing and no substitute for experience. This is our third time coming in. We were able to hit the ground running, and it was a seamless transition because we have been together for so long. We assembled the staff very quickly, but then the recruiting restrictions and recruiting calendar... You think of 31 days to assemble a staff, but you're only allowed one visit a week and one visit per prospect by the head coach. So not only getting them up here on official visits, but getting some individuals back on multiple visits and unofficial visits. A lot of these individuals were committed-eight of them were committed to other institutions, and now you're trying to undo a year or two of relationships in 31 days. That's why I think our staff and wives are so associated with our football program and did a fantastic job. I think the process is not just the coaches. It's a community; it's a fan-base. You'd be amazed at the amount of individuals with parents who will come a day early and they just walk around the town. They'll walk in and ask directions at a gas station. The way our fans and Knoxville greets recruits is very special and unique to Knoxville. The fanbase and the people in this area did a great job."
(On the SEC compared to other conferences)
"Everything is competitive in the SEC. You go to work and its fourth-and-one for the Super Bowl. Our coaches understand that. Recruiting is a daily process; it's an hour-by-hour process. The one thing that you can't put a pricetag on is relationships. Recruiting is a relationship business, and you're trying to work as fast as you can to build those relationships. Secondly, at UT we have a great brand. It's a national brand. I think the opportunity to play for it, getting them on campus was the biggest thing. Once they got on campus, they could feel the energy and the excitement that surrounds the program. But it was a challenge. Like we said, every great program goes through its trials and tribulations and storms. The storms are gone. You can see the sunshine coming through the clouds; that's what we sold. I think the prospects and the parents, once they came to campus, could feel that. I think our players did a great job of hosting these individuals. Once they came on campus, they were sharing what they had gone through in the short time we've been their coaches."
(On Vonn Bell)
"We spent the same amount of time on Vonn Bell that we did on any of our individuals in recruiting. With the recruiting calendar, you're limited. But we put as much effort into him as anyone. I'd really rather talk about our Volunteers and these signees than someone else's players."
(On getting quarterbacks)
"I"m excited. Trent Dilfer is a great friend of mine and he texted me and said, "We feel you have the best recruiting class in terms of quarterbacks in the country." So, Mike Bajakian, you have a lot of expectations surrounding you. To get two Elite-11 quarterbacks...I'm ecstatic. You look at the unusual situation at Tennessee where we only have two quarterbacks on scholarship; I've never heard of that. I think that alone was an attractive situation. Obviously, Riley [Ferguson] was committed to us. We went back and watched everything. I love everything he's about. He's a competitor. I believe he's only lost one football game in his career as a starting quarterback. We went and watched him practice basketball; he's extremely competitive. We're excited about him. Josh Dobbs...to be able to add an individual like that to your recruiting class. He's a 4.0 student; he wants aeronautical engineering. He's brilliant. Their two skill sets really compliment each other. Everything about building a football program is about competition. The quarterback is the most important position on the field, so to be able to have that competitive environment each and every day will be extremely healthy for our football team."
(On the ease of 'flipping' recruits to come to Tennessee)
"Probably more here, than ever. I think that is because of our brand and our product."
(On the signing of this year's receiving class)
"I am excited. Time will tell when they get here, but each individual is different in the way that they grow and develop and mature. Each individual coming into our program will have a different maturity level."
"(For example) Paul Harris, already being enrolled in school, has really given him a jumpstart. I love everything that he has done. Every time I am in my office, he is in there talking. I am excited about him."
"MarQuez North brings a size element, and he can run."
"The great thing when you are compiling a recruiting class is that you take a number of individuals at a certain position - like receiver - you want to have guys who have different skill sets. I think that all of the guys that we signed have skill sets that complement each other."
(How do you manage the development of relation with early enrollees?)
"They were my first home visits. Jalen Reeves-Maybin can attest to this - one of the first visits that I did was at his house in his "mancave," and Coach Martinez and I stayed there all night."
"Just getting to know them (players and parents) is the main thing. You have to develop trust and a relationship very quickly. Like I said, every minute that you get to spend with them is of essence."
"Paul Harris - I went and spent an entire morning with him. His mother cooked a great breakfast for us. Just the amount of time, and trying to earn the trust in a short amount of time is critical."
(How do you decide to go "all in" on a recruit?)
"I believe that you go `all in' on every prospect that you recruit. If you have offered them, you want them and so you are `all in.' But, that is probably the most critical element of the recruiting process - having your board and your rankings, and being able to recruit all of the other individuals while you are recruiting that other prospect."
"The big thing is just having a plan and keeping those relationships going. It's challenging."
"The other thing is that is really challenging is individuals waiting to make their decisions and you only want to take one prospect at that particular position. That becomes a challenge. I think it is a balancing act, and it really comes down to reading body language and the actions of the individual."
(Did you sell Joshua Dobbs on the opportunity to come in and compete for playing time, immediately?)
Obviously, he knew the depth chart. He knew that there were other players ahead of him. But, I tell all of the individuals that I want them coming in with the mentality that they are going to play. I think that is extremely healthy."
"We never promise anybody playing time. What we do promise them is the opportunity to compete. I think when they (recruits) looked at the depth chart that was extremely attractive."
"I want individuals coming in with the mentality that they are playing, not coming in with the mentality that they are going to redshirt."
(On being a coach who encourages players to come in as soon as possible in the summer)
"Absolutely. I am a big proponent of that. I think from a maturity standpoint, that helps them get acclimated with college life. They get six credits and that's a jumpstart on their academics."
"They can also come in and train the college way. So, when training camp comes around in August, they are ready to go."
"I fully anticipate all 21 individual being on campus in June."
(On the recruitment of Jabo Lee)
"Jabo Lee is an individual who we were recruiting all the way through. We knew that he had a tremendous skill set. Coach Jay Graham did a great job of developing a report and relationship with him."
"Jay had him in camp at South Carolina, so he knew all about him. We continued to watch his film. He missed much of his senior year, so we went back and watched his junior film, his sophomore film and we even watched some of his freshman year. What we saw was an individual, that if he had the benefit of a full senior season, would have developed into one of the highest ranking running backs in the country, and been very highly recruited."
"We had a great need, as you all are aware, at running back. We felt that he would be a great addition to our offense because he fits everything that we do. His (high school) run scheme was a lot like what we do here, so we thought that it would be a great fit."
"Jay did a great job of keeping that relationship, after he had established it. It gets back to having a passion to play at Tennessee. Tennessee is a place that Jabo always envisioned himself playing at."
(On where he would have liked to get extra players at)
"Well, competing in the SEC, you feel you can never have enough offensive linemen and defensive linemen. We would like to still continue to add to the defensive line recruiting class."
"I still think the defensive line and the offensive line are the big thing. That's the foundation of your program. You will still see us recruit as time goes on.
(On his schedule now)
"It's a mixture of everything. Even today during signing day, we were watching our players workout. We are trying to evaluate our current team and get ready for spring football, which starts very, very soon."
"We will be getting into our offensive and defensive schemes. And, we're recruiting for next year's class. But, we're also trying to add to this class. It is a balancing act, and it takes great time management."
(On other schools recruiting Jason Carr late in the process)
"I tell you what, I love Jason Carr. He came here and had a great official visit, and then everyone in the SEC came after him. He even had schools camping out at his high schools to talk to him, all day."
"I am very, very proud of him. He has a very strong father, who gave him great guidance. Coach Strickland did a great job of really establishing a relationship and report with his father and also with Jason."
"Coach Elder, Coach Strickland and I went to Memphis and spent all day with him. He is Tennessee through and through. He grew up wearing the orange."
"It was an interesting week, to say the least, but he held true to his word. We are very happy to have him in our football family."
(On Riley Ferguson)
"Yes. We went back and watched him extensively. We watched him in video from when he watched he attended one of our camps here. We watched his senior film, his junior film and I went and watched him practice basketball."
"Coach Bajakian went to a number of his basketball games, so we felt like we had a good evaluation of his skills. He also has a great family."
ASSISTANT COACHES: OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN, TIGHT ENDS COACH MARK ELDER AND OFFENSIVE LINE COACH DON MAHONEY
(On the transition and the difficulty of starting from behind in the recruiting process)
Bajakian : "It's always difficult, that's for sure. When you're dealing with time-sensitive issues like recruiting, which are based on relationships, and you start from behind, you have ground to make up, but I think the continuity that we have amongst the staff, the relationships that we have amongst our staff only help in building those relationships with the recruits and moving forward in that direction. It's always a difficult transition. We have been through it before, and we can anticipate the questions and we can anticipate the problems, and that helps in the whole process."
Elder: "To build upon that, the fact that we've worked together and we're so familiar with each other that helps out quite a bit. The support here at Tennessee is unbelievable, so that certainly helps make the transition a little bit smoother as well."
Mahoney: "I think too the fact that us knowing about some of the prospects allowed us to catch up to speed of exactly where we were in the recruiting of the young men, and again working with each other as we have been for us three, the whole time, allowed the transition to be smooth."
Bajakian: "I think too, not to be understated, Coach Elder and our previous staff recruited the entire state of Tennessee and had great relationships with a lot of the coaches, and frankly, a lot of the recruits, so he, in particular, was able to come in with a solid foundation on the personalities of a lot of these guys and share that with the rest of his coaches, so that also was very helpful."
(Elder on the difference of recruiting the state of Tennessee now compared to at Cincinnati)
"Well, being the state university it's been a great reception. The coaches have been remarkable and they're great people, but when obviously when you walk in with a power T on your chest, they're a little bit more welcoming and a little more excited to see you. That was a really good transition and a positive."
(Bajakian on the importance of adding talent in quarterback and wide receiver positions)
"It was very important. Obviously, a lot of production was lost to the NFL, and number one, you always want to create competitive situations, so we feel great with the guys we have on the roster, but anytime you can add talent at any position, particularly at the quarterback and the wide receiver positions, you're only going to improve...not just from an overall talent, but you're going to force the guys already on the roster to step up their game. We're excited with what we were able to add at both of those positions."
(Elder on acquiring Woody Quinn, and how a volleyball player translates to football now)
"Woody has a great story; he really does. A guy that played high school football early in his career, and then really starting going the volleyball path, just because he was a national, big-time guy, big-time recruit for volleyball, he went that direction, but then missed football. Through a lot of talking with his parents and family friends, he decided to go back to football. And when we watched his film, we really loved his film, and when we found out that was the first time he'd played football in five years, it was a no-brainer. To think that this guy who's 6'6'', and who hasn't had shoulder-pads and a helmet on in five years is remarkable, and I think he's going to be a great story here."
More to come...