Expectations soaring for UT

Expectations soaring for UT

February 27th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Butch Jones

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Butch Jones can pump the brakes all he wants.

It likely will not slow down the powerful machine that is the external expectations for Tennessee's 2014 recruiting class.

The first full haul for Volunteers' coach Jones and his staff finished with plenty of recruiting-service stars and a top-five national ranking, and there will be no shortage of hype and expectations thrown onto the shoulders of those recruits when the rest of the 32-player class arrives in June.

The 14 players already on campus have given Jones hope that this group will have the ability to handle it.

"The great thing about the 14 individuals that have been here is they're very grounded individuals," Tennessee's second-year coach told the Times Free Press in an interview in his office on Tuesday. "They understand where they need to get to. It's all the outside clutter and distractions.

"Stars don't make you a good football player. All you have to do is look at, again, the players in the National Football League. You look at successful players -- stars don't mean anything. That's one or two individuals' opinions. We have our own set of standards that we look for, but I think it's obviously added to the excitement of the class."

As is the case every spring and August, coaches and fans are eager to see how the newcomers look in their first practices, and Tennessee's 14 early enrollees will get their baptism into Jones' fast-paced practice a week from Friday.

Yet the group, which most notably includes five-star tailback Jalen Hurd and five-star receiver Josh Malone, already has made an impact for the Vols. Jones said collectively the newcomers have added 98 pounds. Cornerbacks D'Andre Payne and Emmanuel Moseley have added nearly 20 pounds each to their skinny frames.

"They're extremely grounded, they're very, very competitive and they've done a great job of really elevating our overall competitive spirit and our overall athleticism as a football team," Jones said.

"They've brought a lot," he continued, "but like I said, the first thing I think of is a competitive spirit, an energy about themselves, a thirst. They're thriving to get better each and every day, and I think that's elevated the work ethic of the older players around them.

"Also, I think our older players have done a great job of embracing them and also helping to teach them the standards and the expectations that now we have in place in our football program."

Landing a first full class that was large in quality and quantity was a key first step for Tennessee's rebuilding program, but Jones has reiterated that it'll take more classes like the 2014 one for the Vols to move up the SEC pecking order.

Tennessee's immediate success in recruiting surprised pretty much everyone, but Jones shrugged and replied, "Not really," when asked if the Vols' level of success coming off three consecutive 5-7 seasons surprised him even a little bit.

"I think when you break things down," he added, "we have a great product to sell."

And while Jones pointed to Tennessee's facilities, fans and former players, he said the program's people were the biggest reason the Vols finished among some of college football's top programs in the class rankings.

"People make a place," he said, "and our coaches did a great job of selling our product and building those relationships and building that trust.

"I think that was really evidenced by the closeness of this recruiting class and the amount of individuals that didn't even really take official visits anywhere else, but also them maintaining their commitment and staying true to their word. I think it's a collaboration of a lot of things. It's the small things adding up to the big things."

Of course, when you bring in a class like Tennessee did, big things will be expected from them before they even set foot on campus. It's a natural part of the deal, especially when your program lands two five-star recruits and 16 more four-star prospects. Jones already has and will continue to caution against putting too much on his first-year players too soon.

It really may not make that much of a difference, though.

"I'm very pleased with the class," Jones said. "We'll know more when August and two years roll around, but first indication of the 14 newcomers that are here, I've been exceptionally pleased with where they're at and how much they've elevated our program so far. Now they haven't made one tackle, caught one [pass] -- again, it's like raising your kids.

"They're gonna develop differently, but first indications, I really like what I see."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.