KNOXVILLE -- Coach Derek Dooley has crisscrossed the country the past few weeks in trying to salvage his first University of Tennessee football recruiting class.
The fruits of that labor will be harvested today, as Dooley and his peers sit in their offices, watching their cell phones and fax machines.
Tennessee might not finish with the top-five recruiting class that seemed all but certain before Lane Kiffin bolted for Southern California, but Dooley's first set of signees is closer to that elite status than anyone could have reasonably dreamed two weeks ago.
The Volunteers as of Tuesday night were ranked seventh in Rivals.com's national rankings -- but just fifth in the Southeastern Conference -- and a handful of top-shelf talents could add to that impressive tally today.
Calhoun (Ga.) High School wide receiver star Da'Rick Rogers headlines a potent group of newly deciding prospects who could sign today with the Vols.
Roger committed several months ago to Georgia, but multiple media outlets in his home state reported Tuesday night that Rogers called Bulldogs coach Mark Richt on Monday and told him he planned to sign with UT. Rogers couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday night, and sources told the Times Free Press he wanted to announce the news himself today at 9:45 a.m. at Calhoun. His decision turned toward UT last week when Calhoun quarterback Nash Nance, Rogers' close friend, changed his pledge from Vanderbilt to the Vols.
*Tyler Bray QB 6-6, 180, 4 stars Kingsburg, Calif.
John Brown DT 6-2, 285, 4 stars Lakeland, Fla. (juco)
Dave Clark DB 6-2, 190, 4 stars Baton Rouge, La. (juco)
J.C. Copeland DT 6-2, 260, 4 stars LaGrange, Ga.
Raiques Crump LB 6-1, 210, 2 stars Adamsville, Ala.
Marcques Dixon DB 5-10, 182, 3 stars Decatur, Ga.
*Channing Fugate FB 6-2, 230, 3 stars Jackson, Ky.
Zach Fulton OL 6-4, 306, 3 stars Homewood, Ill.
Justin Hunter WR 6-4, 172, 4 stars Virginia Beach, Va.
Martaze Jackson DE 6-2, 202, 3 stars Demopolis, Ala.
*Ja'Wuan James OL 6-6, 293, 4 stars Suwanee, Ga.
Eddrick Loften DB 5-10, 195, 4 stars Irving, Texas
*Ted Meline WR 6-3, 170, 4 stars Miami
*Corey Miller DE 6-4, 230, 4 stars Duncan, S.C.
*Matt Milton WR 6-6, 190, 4 stars Mascoutah, Ill.
Nash Nance QB 6-3, 205, 2 stars Calhoun, Ga.
Rajion Neal RB 5-10, 215, 4 stars Tyrone, Ga.
Marques Pair OL 6-6, 260, 3 stars Sumter, S.C.
Michael Palardy PK 6-0, 170, 3 stars Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
John Propst LB 6-2, 215, 3 stars Hoover, Ala.
Mychal Rivera TE 6-4, 230, 3 stars Van Nuys, Calif. (juco)
Dontavis Sapp DB 6-3, 205, 2 stars Valdosta, Ga.
*Matt Simms QB 6-3, 215, 3 stars Ramsey, N.J. (juco)
*Jacques Smith DE 6-3, 230, 4 stars Ooltewah
*Enrolled in January
(Star rankings from Rivals.com)
"Da'Rick committed to Tennessee, and a lot of it had to do with Nash Nance and that family," Georgia quarterback commitment Hutson Mason told the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald on Tuesday night.
Other big names could augment UT's class today. Four-star offensive lineman James Stone from Nashville's Maplewood High will sign with the Vols or archrival Alabama. Five-star Atlanta-area wide receiver Markeith Ambles will sign with UT, Southern California or North Carolina.
Highly coveted linebacker prospects Glen Stanley and Ralph Williams call themselves UT commitments, but Stanley could sign with Southern Cal and Williams could choose Ole Miss.
Stanley said Sunday that his recruitment was "pretty open," but he adamantly claimed he was still a Vols commit.
Like previous seasons under previous UT coaching staffs, there are contingency plans for signing day. If Stanley or Williams doesn't sign with the Vols, that should open up scholarship space for UT to sign under-the-radar linebacker prospect Raiques Crump from Adamsville, Ala.
Signing day often features stunning surprises, and Dooley's late arrival to UT combined with his hectic schedule and lack of media interviews could spring a major surprise today. The Vols recently started pursuing three-star Dallas offensive line prospect Dalvin Glass, but inclement weather last weekend prevented him from visiting Knoxville.
Recruits occasionally commit to a program before visiting its campus, but signing before stepping foot in the area is extraordinarily rare. Glass also lists offers from Arkansas, Nebraska, Kansas State, Minnesota and Kansas State.
Another surprising offensive line signature could come from Memphis-area four-star talent Damien Robinson. The 6-foot-8, 330-pound prospect has more than a dozen major college offers and said he will sign today with UT, Mississippi State or Arkansas.
Four-star defensive line prospect J.C. Copeland of LaGrange, Ga., has been a strong UT commitment for months, but he recently visited LSU and debated switching to the Tigers. Copeland has since firmed his verbal pledge to the Vols, but UT coaches will breathe easier if his fax arrives in Knoxville today.
Former UT and current Southern Cal assistant coach Ed Orgeron reportedly asked Copeland to delay signing and visit Los Angeles, but Copeland declined the request.
Other contacts for Wes Rucker are www.twitter.com/wesrucker and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.