Chattanooga area already has five football players ranked among the top 1,000 prospects

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Baylor running back Elijah Howard clears the line during a TSSAA Division II-AAA state quarterfinal against visiting Montgomery Bell Academy on Nov. 15, 2019. Howard is the No. 343 college football recruit in the nation for the signing class of 2021, according to 247Sports.com.
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Baylor running back Elijah Howard clears the line during a TSSAA Division II-AAA state quarterfinal against visiting Montgomery Bell Academy on Nov. 15, 2019. Howard is the No. 343 college football recruit in the nation for the signing class of 2021, according to 247Sports.com.

The Chattanooga area made a splash during the 2020 college football recruiting cycle with a pair of top-100 national signees: Dalton running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who wound up with Georgia Tech, and McCallie defensive end Jay Hardy, who selected Auburn.

What if that was the start of something even bigger?

In the early stages of the 2021 recruiting landscape, the Chattanooga area already has five players ranked among the top 1,000 prospects by 247Sports.com. Baylor running back Elijah Howard tops the five in the updated 247Sports national player rankings at 343rd, with Bradley Central receiver Tray Curry (354th) and McCallie offensive guard Austin Gentle (355th) right behind.

Bradley Central athlete prospect Javin Burke is the nation's No. 565 recruit, while McCallie running back B.J. Harris is No. 844.

"It's definitely a deeper-looking class in Chattanooga than what we've seen on a consistent basis over the years," 247Sports recruiting analyst Ryan Callahan said. "There certainly have been some higher-ranked guys from Chattanooga and some good Division I players, but you haven't always seen the large clusters of those top-1,000 prospects that you often see in Memphis and Nashville.

"That's a good sign for the Chattanooga area, and hopefully it's something we can start to see a little more consistently, but the 2021 class is definitely one of the deeper ones we've seen from that area in a while."

photo Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / McCallie running back B.J. Harris (5) heads downfield for a 49-yard gain against Montgomery Bell Academy during the TSSAA Division II-AAA BlueCross Bowl state title game on Dec. 5, 2019, at Tennessee Tech. Harris rushed for 88 yards on 15 carries to help the Blue Tornado win 28-7. Harris is one of five Chattanooga-area players 247Sports.com has ranked in the top 1,000 college football prospects for 2021.

Howard has been committed to Tennessee since last June, and he won't be alone when it comes to being coveted by Power Five programs.

Curry has taken unofficial visits to North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee in recent months and has scholarship offers from those schools as well as Auburn, Georgia and Nebraska. Gentle last month received an offer from Texas A&M, while Burke has offers from Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

South Carolina and Tennessee offered Harris scholarships in November 2017, and multiple Southeastern Conference schools have joined in since.

The Chattanooga area goes much deeper than those five, however, with Baylor quarterback Neyland Jean and defensive back Riley Jenne, Red Bank offensive lineman B.J. Ragland and defensive lineman Cameron Bell, McMinn County running back Jalen Hunt and offensive lineman Bryce Goodner, McCallie receiver Eric Rivers, Meigs County offensive lineman Malachi Hayden, Calhoun running back Jerrian Hames and Bradley Central defensive back Javon Burke - Javin's twin brother - among the others seeking to enhance their recruiting profiles in the months ahead.

Jenne has scholarship offers from Appalachian State and Tulane, while Jean has one from Florida Atlantic, with that information readily available on their 247Sports player pages, but simply earning a 247Sports player page can be an important part to the recruiting process.

"Rankings sort of evolve throughout the year," Callahan said. "Right now we're just getting into expanding our 2021 rankings a little more, and we'll be rolling out some additional updates pretty soon. Sometimes it's a matter of guys not having their names out there for whatever reason, and the profiles can depend on us getting word on them getting offers and things like that.

"We try to have profiles for everyone who's going to be recruited heavily by an FBS school, but some slip through the cracks and get profiles later than others."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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