KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- When a recruiting war flared up in the wake of Lane Kiffin's sudden departure from the University of Tennessee, new coach Derek Dooley had to work fast to stem a tide of recruit defections.
On National Signing Day, when high school students can officially commit to a college football program, Dooley was able to see the results of his intense scramble in just over two weeks to preserve what was once touted as a top 10 recruiting class.
Early reviews from recruiting observers indicate he was successful. His first recruiting class at Tennessee was in the top 15 in all national ranking services.
The new coach was hired on January 15 after Kiffin left to take the head coaching job at the University of Southern California.
Dooley received signed commitment letters from several of the top high school players in the nation Wednesday, with 25 players committing it total. Eight of those players were already on campus and attending classes.
Among the new recruits is Calhoun, Ga. wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers who signed with the Vols after initially committing to Georgia. Rogers and teammate Nash Nance, a quarterback who originally committed to Vanderbilt, signed with Tennessee during a ceremony at their high school gymnasium.
Rogers is the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Player of the Year and a Rivals.com five-star prospect.
Another big catch for Tennessee is offensive lineman James Stone, of Nashville Maplewood High School.
Alabama appeared to have the edge in landing the 6-foot-5, 297-pounder, but a last-minute push swayed him to the Vols.
In a briefing with the news media late Wednesday, Dooley admitted his task seemed difficult at first.
"It's sort of an understatement to say the program was a little bit in a fragile state," said Dooley of his first few days on the job.
Still, he said he had the benefit of Tennessee's strong program and facilities to help him make his selling points.
"Tennessee has so much to sell," Dooley said. "It wasn't a hard as people think to go out there and convince some of these young men to come to Tennessee. It was just a matter of me getting in front of them."
Kiffin used two of Tennessee's recruits to help him build upon the recruiting class he inherited upon his arrival at USC.
Wide receiver Markeith Ambles and linebacker Glen Stanley signed with Kiffin, helping Southern California earn a Rivals.com ranking of 2nd in the nation.
Michael Palardy, from Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is one of the top prospects who stayed with Tennessee despite pressure from other schools to give up his commitment. He is rated in some recruiting circles as the No. 1 or No. 2 kicker in the country.
J.C. Copeland, rated a four-star defensive end prospect by Rivals.com, was a recruit neither Kiffin nor Dooley could land, though both were reportedly in the running to sign him.
Copeland ended up signing Wednesday with LSU, where former Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis runs the defense.
The Vols had eight early commitments enrolled in classes before signing day. They will be available to participate in spring drills.
Among the early commitments is Matt Simms, son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms and brother of ex-Texas quarterback Chris Simms. He is a junior college transfer.
Also on board already is defensive end Jacques Smith, a Rivals.com four-star prospect from Ooletewah.
"I was real pleased that all eight came back, and I thought that was a good first step of where we were headed," Dooley said.
|John Brown||DL||6-2, 285||Lakeland, Fla.||NE Mississippi C.C.|
|Dave Clark||DB||6-2, 190||Baton Rouge, La.||Independence C.C.|
|Raiques Crump||LB||6-2, 220||Adamsville, Ala.||Minor|
|Marcques Dixon||Ath||5-10, 195||Decatur, Ga.||Southwest DeKalb|
|Zach Fulton||OL||6-5, 315||Homewood, Ill.||Homewood-Flossmoor|
|Justin Hunter||WR||6-5, 180||Virginia Beach, Va.||Ocean Lakes|
|Martaze Jackson||LB||6-2, 225||Demopolis, Ala.||Demopolis|
|Eddrick Loften||DB||6-0, 200||Irving, Texas||Nimitz|
|Nash Nance||QB||6-3, 215||Calhoun, Ga.||Calhoun|
|Rajion Neal||RB||5-11, 215||Tyrone, Ga.||Sandy Creek|
|Marques Pair||OL||6-6, 275||Sumter, S.C.||Sumter|
|Michael Palardy||PK||6-0, 170||Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.||St. Thomas Aquinas|
|John Propst||LB||6-1, 220||Hoover, Ala.||Hoover|
|Mychal Rivera||TE||6-4, 250||Van Nuys, Calif.||College of the Canyons|
|Da'Rick Rogers||WR||6-3, 215||Calhoun, Ga.||Calhoun|
|Dontavis Sapp||DB||6-3, 205||Valdosta, Ga.||Valdosta|
|James Stone||OL||6-4, 295||Nashville||Maplewood|
|Tyler Bray||QB||6-6, 190||Kingsburg, Calif.||Kingsburg|
|Channing Fugate||ATH||6-2, 225||Jackson, Ky.||Breathitt Co.|
|Ja'Wuan James||OL||6-6, 290||Suwanee, Ga.||North Gwinnett|
|Ted Meline||WR||6-3, 170||Miami, Fla.||North Miami Sr.|
|Corey Miller||DL||6-4, 230||Wellford, S.C.||Byrnes|
|Matt Milton||WR||6-6, 200||Mascoutah, Ill.||Mascoutah|
|Matt Simms||QB||6-3, 215||Franklin Lake, N.J.||El Camino C.C.|
|Jacques Smith||DL||6-3, 235||Ooletewah||Ooletewah|
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