KNOXVILLE — Butch Jones may be new to recruiting in the cutthroat Southeastern Conference, but Tennessee's new football coach is no stranger to recruiting inside his new home state's borders.
Jones has knowledge of the landscape in Tennessee from his two-year stint as an assistant at West Virginia and the past two recruiting cycles at Cincinnati, and the Volunteers' new coach made his recruiting intentions clear in opening his introductory news conference Friday.
"Let me make no mistake about it: We are going to win first and foremost with the great state of Tennessee," Jones declared. "We have tremendous high school coaches in the state, we are the state institution and we will own our state. We're going to be in every high school in this state, and our players are going to understand what it is to wear the power 'T.'
"They're going to understand what it means to represent their home institution, and I take great pride in that."
Jones might have some catching up to do. The top three prospects in the state according to 247Sports -- Brentwood Academy cornerback Jalen Ramsey (Southern California), Memphis St. Benedict running back Jordan Wilkins (Auburn) and Memphis Central defensive end Frank Herron (LSU) -- have committed to other programs. Ensworth athlete Corn Elder, the fourth-ranked player, currently isn't considering Tennessee.
Of 247Sports' 2012 Tennessee prospect rankings, the Vols signed only two of the top 25, while 14 signed with other SEC schools. The Vols have commitments from four of the state's top 10 players for the 2013 class. Clarksville Northeast athlete Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Memphis White Station's Jason Carr, Bradley Central's Austin Sanders and Knoxville West's Camion Patrick figure to meet their new coach sometime this week.
According to a Times Free Press story that ran a week after Derek Dooley's exit, many areas coaches gave Dooley a failing grade for recruiting rapport and overall communication and effectiveness.
Jones appears intent on changing that.
"I think it's the entire state," he said. "Every coach on our staff is going to have an area of Tennessee. This is our home state, and we're to be visible.
"We're going to do a lot of different things with camps. We're going to do a lot of things with coaching clinics, attracting these great coaches to get them on campus so we can show them what we have to offer. We're going to do our diligence in this state because I think it's important that when you take an in-state player, he really understands the traditions that are associated with our football program."
At Cincinnati, Jones signed four players in three years who were rated as four-star prospects by Rivals.com or 247Sports. His three classes finished 59th, 49th and 50th nationally in Rivals recruiting rankings, though the Bearcats were third, third and fifth in the Big East those three years. Yet Cincinnati has shared the league's title two of the past three years.
Jones was busy in Tennessee with Cincinnati. The Bearcats extended scholarship offers to 14 prospects from Tennessee in the 2013 class and 16 in the 2012 class. Cincinnati signed two players from Memphis (three-star athlete Alex Dale and three-star receiver Nathan Cole) in 2012.
As highly regarded as the in-state 2013 group is by most recruiting services, the 2014 class is shaping up to be equally as solid. Those prospects are headlined by Beech tailback Jalen Hurd, who set the state's single-season rushing record this season 3,357 yards.
"I didn't have much of a relationship with Coach Dooley or his staff," the five-star prospect told the Times Free Press nearly two weeks ago. "Who UT gets as its coach will help me decide how interested I am in them. They need somebody to sell the future, make us want to be a part of a quick turnaround to being competitive at the highest level."
Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Ohio State are among the heavy hitters chasing Hurd, to whom Jones made an offer at Cincinnati. Likewise, multiple major programs are pursuing Knoxville Webb safety Todd Kelly Jr., the son of a former Tennessee defensive star. Receiver Josh Malone from Station Camp in Gallatin is another four-star prospect coveted by a handful of schools.
Nashville Christ Presbyterian Academy defensive back Vic Wharton, Nashville Montgomery Bell Academy offensive lineman Alex Bars and Memphis White Station linebacker Petera Wilson also are among Rivals' top 250 overall players for 2014.
"Butch Jones can only improve the Tennessee program from where it is now," Kelly wrote on Twitter on Friday.
As the signs began pointing to Jones' hiring Thursday night, Wharton, who held an offer from Cincinnati, tweeted, "Fans might not be happy if Jones gets the job but recruits will."
With the Bearcats, Jones also was productive in Florida, one of the nation's recruiting hotbeds. Cincinnati signed 17 players from that state in Jones' three classes and had commitments from four prospects for 2013. Jones nearly landed quarterback Nathan Peterman and linebacker Kenneth Bynum, two Jacksonville recruits who signed with Tennessee last February.
"It's all about relationships again," Jones said. "We've recruited the state of Florida for a number of years, but basically we've recruited all over. It's relationships, but I've recruited all over the country.
"We're going to go where the best football is, but above all else, we have a recruiting profile of the individual that we're looking for here at the University of Tennessee."
Jones' ultimate task is taking his program and selling it to those prospects who fit his physical and intangible criteria, whether they be near or far.
"It's a national brand," he said. "You can walk into any high school in the United States of America, and when they see your shirt and they see your logo, they know who you are."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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