Knowing there is a lot of ground to make up in a short amount of time, new University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones found an unusual way to make a big impression on Ridgeland High School's All-America safety Vonn Bell.
On the day of his only in-home visit, Jones brought his entire defensive staff to meet with Bell and his family Monday.
"It was a great visit with all the defensive staff and Coach Jones when they all came to my house," Bell said in a text late Monday night. "Coach Jones approached everything very good with my parents and me, and we're just fired up about the visit this weekend."
On the day that Rivals.com officially elevated Bell to a five-star rating, its highest level for a prospect, the Vols contingent met with him and his parents for nearly four hours.
Since Rivals began its five-star rating system in 2002, Bell is only the third area player to earn the top rank, joining former Red Bank and UT running back Gerald Riggs (2002) and former Calhoun and UT receiver Da'Rick Rogers (2010). Bell is rated the 32nd overall prospect in the nation, the third-highest ranking ever for an area player.
"The way he performed in the UnderArmour All-American game really showed how versatile he is," Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said. "He showed that he can play either safety position or even be a one-on-one shut-down cornerback, and that just made his stock rise even more.
"He was pleasantly surprised when all five assistants showed up with Coach Jones. He said he was impressed with how Coach Jones shared his philosophy of what he's bringing to the program and the changes he will be making for the future. He is selling the Bells on the environment they're trying to create and how Vonn can help move things in a positive direction."
Bell will take his official visit to UT this weekend and will talk with his family and coaches early next week to begin deciding among UT, Alabama and Ohio State. He will announce his choice on national signing day, Feb. 6, at a news conference in the Ridgeland gym. That decision will be broadcast live on ESPNU at 10 a.m.
Bell will visit the Knoxville campus this weekend with his family. He already has visited Ohio State and Alabama and had an in-home visit from Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban last Monday. Coaches are allowed only one in-home visit, and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer used his one-on-one day when Ridgeland played in Georgia's Class AAAA state final, spending time with Bell in the locker room before and after the game and sitting in the stands with his family during the game.
The Vols were considered to have fallen behind Bell's other two finalists because of the lack of a personal recruiting touch by former UT coach Derek Dooley and his staff.
"Just by showing up, that's different than the former UT regime," Mariakis said. "Coach Jones knows UT is behind in time. That's not his fault - it's just the timing of the coaching change, which has only given them a couple of weeks to make up ground when the other two staffs have been recruiting him and building a relationship for more than a year.
"Coach Jones and his staff are doing a good job of showing Vonn he's a priority. I've never heard of an entire staff showing up to recruit one player, so that was pretty impressive. Now when the family goes up to visit the campus for three days, the staff can use that time to just court Vonn and make him feel like an important piece of the recruiting class."