Just hours after being presented as the University of Tennessee's new head football coach, Butch Jones hit the recruiting trail. And just as he had promised during his introductory news conference, Jones made an in-state recruit his top priority.
Several reports from the midstate had Jones sighted at Nashville's Ensworth School to watch Corn Elder play basketball.
Despite rumors circulating before Ridgeland's state football semifinal Friday night that Jones would attend to watch Vonn Bell, UT was not represented by a staff member, according to Ridgeland coaches. Alabama assistant Lance Thompson was munching popcorn and standing on the Ridgeland sideline, along with UT-Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman and assistant Will Healy.
Bell, who has trimmed the list of schools he is considering to UT, Alabama and Ohio State, is a four-star prospect according to Rivals.com and is rated a five-star by Scout.com. A free safety who doubles as a wing man on offense for the Panthers, he had five solo tackles, two passes defended and a touchdown reception in Ridgeland's win.
He will be one of UT's top priorities as Jones assembles his staff and tries to play catch-up on with recruits still weighing their options.
Numerous high school coaches across Tennessee, as well as the tri-state area, recently expressed what they believed was a lack of recruiting attention and relationship building by former coach Derek Dooley and his staff. Before he even began taking questions from the media, Jones made a point to lay out his plan to begin bridging that gap.
"You win with players," Jones said. "Make no mistake about it, we're going to win first and foremost with the great state of Tennessee. We have tremendous high school coaches in this state. We're the state institution and we will own our state. We're going to be at every high school in this state, and our players are going to understand what it is to wear the power T and represent their home institution. I take great pride in that."
Jones said he and his staff, still to be named, also would spend time solidifying the current commitments for the Vols' February 2013 signing class.
Bradley Central offensive tackle Austin Sanders is among those commitments, and aside from never wavering from his verbal pledge, Sanders also has worked to keep others in this class together.
"I don't know anything about Butch Jones yet, but I've heard he's an intense coach," said Sanders, who was UT's first commitment for 2013. "I'm just glad we got somebody and can stop looking around and move forward.
"I've talked to a lot of the guys in our class to make sure they're sticking with us, but there's not much else I can do. Now it's up to the new staff to make sure they all stick with us, but as for the ones who are committed to other places, most of those guys will be tough to get them to turn this late.
"The best thing we can do to make sure we start getting the best players is to go win and start turning things around next year."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 20 years, starting at the News-Free Press as a 19-year-old reporter. He has 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. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation ...