KNOXVILLE — One week from today Butch Jones will sign his fourth recruiting class as Tennessee's head football coach, and the Volunteers are hoping to finish with a flourish.
That kind of finish eluded Jones in the first class he signed three years ago.
The 2013 class the new coaching staff had less than two months to complete wound up ranked 21st nationally by Rivals.com and 26th by 247Sports.com, but it set the table for top-five classes in 2014 and 2015.
The Vols' new coaches were confident then that with more time they would be able to attract difference-making prospects and touted classes.
"We've got a great head coach, and he's a great closer," linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said on signing day that year. "We just ran out of time. I think next year when we've got 365 days it's going to make a difference.
"With the intensity of the staff that we have, we'll be competitive year in and year out.
Despite having limited time, Tennessee still managed to get into the mix with a handful of acclaimed prospects, only to finish second, third or fourth with nearly all of them. Those included safety Vonn Bell (Ohio State), defensive end Carl Lawson (Auburn) and running back Derrick Green (Michigan).
Other players the Vols got on campus for January visits but didn't land included wide receivers Shelton Gibson (West Virginia) and Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh), running backs Jonathan Ford and Peyton Barber (both Auburn), defensive end Davin Bellamy (Georgia) and quarterback John Franklin III (Florida State).facebook
"We changed some lives," secondary coach Willie Martinez said on signing day. "We changed people's thinking. This is a great place, and everybody knows it.
"Some of the kids that weren't giving a look at the University of Tennessee, they thought about it. They thought about it really long and hard."
The makeshift class Jones and Co. completed in 2013 turned out to be a mixed bag of stars, key contributors, busts and eventual transfers.
Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Cameron Sutton — two recruits Tennessee's new staff inherited — and quarterback Josh Dobbs, whom the Vols flipped from Arizona State, have been vital pieces in the program's turnaround.
Dylan Wiesman became a fixture at guard this season and earned an All-SEC selection in his first season as a full-time starter. Brett Kendrick has seven career starts on the offensive line. When healthy, Johnathon Johnson and Josh Smith have been reliable targets at receiver.
Corey Vereen and Kendal Vickers bolstered Tennessee's defensive line this season, and Malik Foreman stepped into the starting lineup in the secondary and developed into a reliable player.
Injuries derailed the promising career of wide receiver Marquez North, who declared for the NFL draft this month, after his freshman season, and the same can be said for offensive lineman Austin Sanders, another four-star prospect.
Eight players from Tennessee's 2013 class have transferred out of the program. The most notable departure was quarterback Riley Ferguson, who signed with Memphis in December after a season in junior college. Jason Carr was a four-star defensive tackle prospect who never panned out and wound up in junior college.
Other departed players included wide receivers Paul Harris (Louisville) and Ryan Jenkins (Arizona State), tight end A.J. Branisel (Florida International), defensive ends Malik Brown (Bowling Green) and Jaylen Miller (Limestone College) and safety Lemond Johnson (Richmond).
With nearly all of Tennessee's top remaining targets expected to be on campus on official visits, this weekend is set to be the most important one of this recruiting cycle for the Vols.
In addition to seven current commitments, five-star defensive tackle Derrick Brown (Buford, Ga.), four-star safety Nigel Warrior (Suwanee, Ga.), five-star offensive lineman Landon Dickerson (Hudson, N.C.) and four-star athlete Tyler Byrd (Naples, Fla.) are among the other prospects expected to be in Knoxville.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.