KNOXVILLE - One of the nation's top football recruits gave Tennessee a boost it badly needed Tuesday.
The Volunteers landed perhaps the best prospect in their home state and one of the nation's top offensive tackles when the University School of Jackson's Trey Smith picked Tennessee from a final group including Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Ole Miss and Notre Dame during a ceremony at his school.
Smith, the No. 1 player in the 2017 class according to ESPN, is slated to join the Vols next month as an early enrollee.
"Really I'd say it's the players to a certain extent," Smith said during his interview with the hosts of College Football Daily after ESPNU televised his announcement. "A lot of guys, especially in that O-line room, we just have a great relationship.
"The things Coach (Butch) Jones has in place to be successful, not only in football but in regards to life after football, they're excellent. Picking on being an in-state guy, the abilities after football, what I can do for myself and my family, you really can't turn them down.
"I'm really ecstatic about the city of Knoxville. I love it. I just had a really good feel for that city in regards to other cities. It's just the right fit for me. It's the right place for me."
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Smith is ranked as the No. 4 overall player, the No. 3 offensive tackle and the No. 1 prospect in Tennessee by 247Sports.com.
He picked the Vols less than 48 hours after returning from an official visit to Knoxville over the weekend and gave Tennessee's 2017 class the kind of star power it has lacked to this point.
"He's got outstanding size," ESPN national recruiting analyst Craig Haubert said before Smith's decision. "He's a natural knee-bender. He's light on his feet. He had a youthful frame two years ago (when) I remember seeing him on the camp circuit, but he's really filled out. He's put on some quality mass.
"The thing that I really love about this young man outside of natural ability is he's a tenacious blocker. He wants to play physical. He wants to finish. He brings all those tools that you look for in an outstanding tackle at a premium position. He really checks all the boxes in what is, in our opinion, the best offensive line class we've seen in years."
Tennessee made Smith a priority long before he made his announcement Tuesday.
The Vols held one of their satellite camps at his high school in Jackson and brought in help from multiple former players, including current Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James, Super Bowl-winning center Scott Wells and three former Vols from West Tennessee who went on to play in the NFL: Chad Clifton, Trey Teague and Al Wilson.
In the summer Tennessee hired Ashley Smith, Trey's sister, to work in the football program with the title of executive assistant to the head coach.
Smith was Tennessee's only official visitor to campus this past weekend, and the Vols rolled out the figurative red carpet for him and his family.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Alabama coach Nick Saban visited Smith at school Monday, and the Vols had multiple assistant coaches stop by in Jackson after Jones made his in-home visit last week between Smith's official visits to Ohio State and Tennessee.
Tennessee will lose two scholarship offensive linemen after this season, Dylan Wiesman and former Bradley Central standout Austin Sanders. The Vols signed three offensive linemen - Marcus Tatum, Ryan Johnson and Nathan Niehaus - in 2016. Johnson and Niehaus redshirted, but injuries forced Tatum to burn his redshirt. Devante Brooks, who started out as a tight end, was moved to the offensive line in November.
Smith joins Riley Locklear and K'Rojhn Calbert as Tennessee's 2017 offensive line commitments.
"A big thing Coach Jones pushed was building your brand," Smith said. "He really made that pretty integral in my recruitment, what Tennessee can do for my brand. I think the opportunities at Tennessee are really unlike most schools.
"The things they have in place, like a TV studio in the bottom and a media room for the SEC, these are large integral steps to be an elite program. I really feel like they can do it. We are going to do it, excuse me. We'll make Tennessee elite again."
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