Chattanooga-area University of Tennessee signees
2010 -- Jacques Smith (Ooltewah), Da'Rick Rogers (Calhoun), Nash Nance (Calhoun)
2009 -- Kevin Revis (Rhea County)
2008 -- Stephaun Raines (Dalton)
2007 -- B.J. Coleman (McCallie), Kevin Cooper (Baylor), Cory Hall (Brainerd)
2006 -- Jacques McClendon (Baylor)
2005 -- Demonte Bolden (Tyner)
2004 -- Cam Mayo (Dalton)
2003 -- Jarod Parish (Chattooga)
2002 -- Jason Hall (McCallie), Gerald Riggs (Red Bank)
By the time the ink dries on scholarship papers later this week, at least five area prep football players will have signed with Football Bowl Subdivision programs (Division I-A). But for the first time in a decade, none of them will be headed to Knoxville for their college career.
The Chattanooga area has had at least one player sign with the University of Tennessee every year since sending two in 2002, including twice in the previous four years in which three area players signed with UT. But a combination of factors will have put an end to that streak by Wednesday's national signing day.
This was a down year in terms of the number of FBS prospects in the area. Only five of this year's Dynamite Dozen, the area's top 12 college prospects, are expected to sign with a FBS program, which would be the lowest total from the area in 12 years. Of that number, two compete at high schools in Tennessee and the other three play in Georgia. Two players -- Dalton offensive lineman Watts Dantzler and Ridgeland athlete Devin Bowman -- will sign with Georgia, while Ridgeland defensive lineman Mason Harris will sign with South Carolina. Baylor linebacker David Helton with Duke and McCallie receiver Keenan Hale with Syracuse.
"I visited Tennessee during my sophomore and junior years for camps but then the interest kind of fell off, partly because of all the coaching changes they've gone through," said Helton, who was also recruited by Georgia Tech, Auburn, Virginia Tech as well as Kansas, Syracuse, Memphis and Middle Tennessee State. "Obviously Tennessee is doing well in recruiting, but as far as the local guys, I think there wasn't much mutual interest. A lot of that can also be what those coaches are looking to bring into their program, so maybe it wasn't a fit for the style players UT wants.
"Coach [David] Cutcliffe and his staff at Duke recruited me since my sophomore year and every time I went to visit they really made me feel welcome and wanted. It was always a very personal visit anytime I was around those coaches and I think most recruits wind up signing with the coaches who have built those relationships through the years."
Four of this year's Dynamite Dozen prospects have said they will sign with UTC (McCallie's Jarrod Coleman, Calhoun's Dustin Lindsey, Baylor's Jacob Huesman and Northwest Whitfield's Synjen Herron).
Last summer, only one of the Times Free Press' Dynamite Dozen listed UT as one of the schools they were either interested in or were being recruited by. Central High's DeHart Hubbard was projected to be a UT recruit prior to the season, but a combination of factors, including grade issues, dropped him from the Vols' list.
"I think that staff will recruit our area and the whole state pretty hard, but they haven't had time to build relationships around the state just yet," said one local high school coach. "To be honest, this just wasn't a year where a lot of kids in and around Chattanooga were the type players who can compete in the Southeastern Conference. Tennessee is trying to play catch-up in the league so they can't really take many chances on a kid who may or may not be able to help them right away.
"There were times in the past where maybe Tennessee's coaches had enough talent already there to take a chance on an in-state kid, but when you look at the ones they're trying to sign from this state this year, they're all guys who are projected to come in and play right away. There just wasn't that type kid in our area this year."
In 2001, the last year the area didn't produce a UT signee, there were six players who signed with FBS programs, highlighted by Hixson's Daniel and Josh Bullocks signing with Nebraska. Since that time a total of 14 area players have signed with the Vols, with nine of those becoming starters.
Former UT coach Phillip Fulmer's had an established relationship with prep coaches in Chattanooga, signing 10 players from this area during Fulmer's last seven seasons as coach. That work by Fulmer's staff even spilled over into the season after he resigned when former Rhea County offensive lineman Kevin Revis, who had been recruited heavily during Fulmer's last season, was part of Lane Kiffin's signing class.
Among the area's 10 FBS signees last February, three -- Ooltewah's Jacques Smith, Calhoun's Da'Rick Rogers and Nash Nance -- signed with the Vols. Smith had been committed for one year, while Rogers and Nance were swayed in the final weeks before signing day by new coach Derek Dooley.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...