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Recruting Results Great For Vols!!!


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Staff Writer


KNOXVILLE — Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer has never been one to sleep in on National Signing Day.


He woke up yesterday at 4:30 in the morning, again at 5:30 and was in the office by 7. Had he known what awaited the Vols, he probably would have been in several hours earlier.


The Vols orchestrated one of the most memorable closes to the recruiting season in school history. In one head-spinning day, they landed Parade All-America receivers Bret Smith of Warren, Ark., and Robert Meachem of Tulsa, Okla., Parade All-America defensive end Turk McBride of Camden, N.J., and the top-rated offensive tackle in the country in Aaron Sears of Russellville, Ala.


If that's not enough, Tennessee managed to hold on to Parade All-America offensive tackle Eric Young of Union, S.C., who shunned last-minute overtures by South Carolina and stuck with the Vols.


''It felt like you were in a poker game and weren't going to lose any hands there for a while,'' Fulmer said. ''It was really falling good, and then obviously Meachem finishing up the day was special.


''At the same time, you really appreciate Jayson Swain, who committed early and stuck by his guns through all kinds of different things.''


Swain, who's from Huntsville, Ala., committed in December after also considering Georgia and Michigan. He was rated by ESPN.com's Tom Lemming as the fourth-best receiver prospect in the country.


Meachem, rated as the country's third-best receiver prospect by Rivals100.com, was the last one to announce yesterday afternoon.


He spurned Oklahoma to sign with Tennessee and joins Swain and Smith to give the Vols perhaps their best receiver class in the Fulmer era. All three were rated among the top eight receiver prospects in the country by Lemming.


''On the offensive side, I can't remember when we've signed three or four better receivers,'' said Fulmer, who also added 6-3, 205-pound sleeper Bill Grimes of Douglasville, Ga.


''Our [current] receivers are certainly going to have more competition than they've seen. I'm anxious to get the young guys in there and see how fast they can go. I'm hopeful very fast.''


The 6-foot-4, 310-pound Sears chose Tennessee over Auburn and Miami. Fulmer called Sears as promising an offensive line prospect as he has seen since Michael Munoz.


All told, the Vols signed 22 players, and eight of those didn't finalize their decisions until yesterday. In addition to Smith, Meachem, McBride and Young, linebacker Daniel Brooks of Central Merry High in Jackson was the fifth Parade All-American to sign with Tennessee.


That gives the Vols 12 Parade All-Americans in their last two signing classes. They had seven last year.


The only bad surprise yesterday for Tennessee was defensive end Ray Edwards of Cincinnati reneging on his commitment and signing with Purdue.


Otherwise, it was all orange for the Vols, who were coming off their worst season in 14 years.


''The season was really tough and obviously the bowl game was, too,'' Fulmer said. ''It was good for everybody that we were able to rally a little bit to go into this spring with a good feeling about where Tennessee football is.


''We're not going away.''


Lemming said the Vols' torrid finish moved them into his top 10 at ninth nationally. He said they moved ahead of Georgia, but were behind LSU and Florida in the SEC.


''Once again, Phillip Fulmer proves why he is one of the top two or three recruiters in the country,'' Lemming said. ''It was just a great close, and only a week or two ago, Tennessee fans were scared to death. You learn real fast, though, to never underestimate Phillip Fulmer.''


The two marquee players in the class, according to Lemming, are Brooks and Sears. In fact, Lemming said Sears was one of the four most dominant players at the U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio last month.


''He was just devastating down there,'' Lemming said. ''I think he has the ability to play as a freshman.''


Fulmer said even he was surprised at a few of the players who decided on the Vols in the final hour. Probably the biggest surprise was Smith, who talked to Tennessee officials only sparingly since his official visit to UT on Jan. 17.


Then the clincher came when Meachem announced for the Vols in his high school auditorium in Tulsa.


''It's hard when you start crossing those state lines,'' said Fulmer, who signed players from nine states.


''You have to beat the University of Somebody, but young men have ideas of their own of what they're looking for. When you can fit those needs with the tradition and facilities at Tennessee, you have a chance.


''There's some incredibly strong young men in this class to stand up to the pressure that they might have had.''


The Gamecocks even offered a scholarship at the last minute to one of Young's teammates hoping to get him, but Young said his ''heart was with Tennessee the whole time.''


With Edwards' change of heart, Fulmer said the Vols might have come up one defensive end short. But he said Tony McDaniel of Columbia, S.C., and McBride were the real thing. McDaniel could wind up growing into a tackle.


''I think they both can be NFL players,'' Fulmer said.


The Vols also missed out on a high-profile quarterback. Bo Hardegree, Brooks' high school teammate, is more of a project. Fulmer said quarterback (or quarterbacks) would be a priority next year.


And assuming this group of receivers pans out as advertised, he said that might enable the Vols to keep James Banks at quarterback full time.


''I didn't know we'd do quite as well as we did,'' Fulmer said. ''There was no way to do that. We've been talking to these guys for a long time. It was kind of a culmination, and we felt like we were going to be all right.


''And then you had a couple that popped that were just icing on the cake, and it was an incredible amount of icing.''

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