KNOXVILLE - The third Wednesday in December is a far cry from the first Wednesday in February in the world of college football recruiting, but it was still an important day for a Tennessee football program trying to revamp its roster.
In a precursor to February's National Signing Day, the Volunteers officially added a trio of junior college players but lost one of their more important commitments during national signing day for JuCo prospects enrolling in January.
Tennessee was dealt a blow when defensive end DaVonte Lambert, who committed to the Vols back in August, signed with Auburn, but the Vols will welcome the first official additions to their touted 2014 recruiting class. Receiver Von Pearson, offensive tackle Dontavius Blair and defensive lineman Owen Williams all will be relied upon to make immediate impacts.
"When you're recruiting the junior college ranks, obviously the profile doesn't change: the character, the competitiveness, the position specifics, the measurables," first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones told the Times Free Press last month.
"But you look for an individual who has a little more experience, maybe a little older, a little more maturity and an opportunity to help your team immediately.
"Each year is different. The way your roster is set up in terms of depth and experience, I think that really plays a hand. Each year's a different year, and what you're looking for and your particular needs."
Tennessee confirmed it had received signed letters of intent from Pearson, Williams and Blair before 10 o'clock on Wednesday morning, a few hours before Lambert's announcement. Auburn made a late push for the 6-foot-3, 278-pound Georgia Military College player, who took an unofficial visit to Auburn for the Tigers' win against Alabama 18 days ago.
Lambert, the nation's top JuCo defensive lineman according to Rivals.com and 247sports.com's No. 8 overall JuCo prospect, hosted members of Tennessee and Auburn's coaching staffs for a final round of in-home visits over the weekend and ultimately flipped to the Tigers and signed at Waynesboro (Ga.) Burke County High School, his alma mater.
According to Rivals.com, Pearson and Blair are the nation's No. 3 and No. 7 JuCo prospects.
The 6-foot-8, 300-pound Blair, out of Garden City Community College in Kansas, is in line to replace left tackle Antonio "Tiny" Richardson, who announced earlier this month he was forgoing his senior season in favor of entering the NFL draft.
Originally from Alabama, Blair committed to Tennessee in October and made his official visit to campus for the Auburn game in November. He also took official visits to Auburn, Florida State and Texas A&M. Among the schools on Blair's scholarship offer list were Ohio State, Georgia, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Southern California.
"Dontavius has a tremendous attitude and high character," Vols offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "He is very mature and experienced having played two seasons in junior college. He is a perfect fit for what we are looking for as a tackle."
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Pearson will add a playmaking punch to a Tennessee offense that was limited in that capacity last season. Originally from Newport News, Va., Pearson put up some gaudy numbers this season, when he caught 93 passes for 1,601 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games for Feather River College in California.
Pearson is a dynamic player who's shifty and quick with the ball in his hands and a vertical threat.
"Von was as productive of a player as there was in all of junior college football this past season," Tennessee receivers coach Zach Azzanni said. "He brings instant help as a threat on the outside to our offense."
A one-time Texas Tech commitment who signed with Georgia Southern out of Macon (Ga.) Westside High School in 2011, Williams is a key player for a Tennessee defensive line that has to replace six departed seniors.
The 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle from Butler Community College in Kansas was named a second-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American early this week after he finished with 48 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 11 games.
"Owen is very active and plays with a high motor," Vols defensive line coach Steve Stripling said. "He has outstanding strength and uses his hands very well. His activity and playmaking abilities helped Butler C.C. to successful season, and Owen had a great performance in their bowl game."
Since he isn't enrolling in January like the trio that signed Wednesday, Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College linebacker Chris Weatherd, the remaining JuCo commitment in the Vols' 2014 class, will sign with Tennessee in February.
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