Derek Dooley said Tennessee gave the rest of the SEC plenty of ammunition to use against the school in recruiting and the Volunteers had to overcome social media, which Dooley called the “national barber shop,” but UT ended National Signing Day with 21 signees, including seven who were mid-year enrollees and began school in January.
“All in all, if you look at all that’s happened, all that’s transpired, it’s hard to feel better than I do today,” Dooley said. “I made the statement to our coach staff, this is the best day I’ve felt as far as the future of our program, where we’re heading, that I have in the 24 months I’ve been on the job. It’s a good day.”
The first Wednesday in February is the first day high school seniors and junior college prospects are eligible to sign with the college of their choice and the event has turned into holiday-type spectacle to college football fans across the country.
After a 5-7 season and losing six assistant coaches, Dooley had a saying to the remaining assistants and potential recruits about looking at the foundation that’s been build over the past two years.
“Keep the main thing the main thing,” he said. “Keep your focus on what’s real. Keep your focus on the facts, and not get lost in emotion, not get lost in fear and not get lost in negativity.”
UT signed players from nine states, including four from each of Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.
“I don’t care what anybody says, this is a special place and still sells all over the country because of the great tradition, the fan base, the gameday experience (and) the atmosphere they fell when they come on campus,” Dooley said.
The top player who inked with the Vols on Wednesday was junior college receiver Cordarelle Patterson. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Patterson spent the past two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, and will be a junior this fall. He is regarded as the top JUCO wide-out in the signing class and was a teammate of UT quarterback Justin Worley at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill, S.C.
“You watch the film, whether you need him or not, you’re a fool not to recruit him because he’s got play-making ability, size, speed and also brings return ability on kickoffs,” Dooley said of Patterson.
In addition to Patterson, the Vols signed three other receivers, all of whom were selected as High School All-Americans: Drae Bowles, Jason Croom and Alton “Pig” Howard.
“We’re still young, and we’re going to do great things in the future,” Bowles said. “I’m really excited to play for Coach Dooley, and I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to rock and roll."
Despite losing two highly-ranked linebackers who decommitted from UT in the last week — Dalton Santos and Otha Peters — the Vols signed two ‘backers in Justin King and LaTroy Lewis.
Of the seven mid-year enrollees, JUCO defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore fills an immediate need. Sentimore originally signed with Alabama and played a significant role as a freshman.
“What Darrington brings is he played 12 games in the Southeastern Conference at a high level,” Dooley said. “So he’s unlike most junior college players. We actually watched his film at Alabama so we know what we’re getting.”
Another junior college defensive linemen, Daniel McCullers, brings “gargantuine size” at 6-foot-6, 380-pounds.
“He’s really big when you see him,” Dooley said. “He’s like two people.”
UT didn’t sign an offensive linemen, a rarity in recruiting, because of the quality of depth the Vols already have on their offensive line and needs at other positions, especially on defense.
This year, UT and the rest of the SEC were limited to signing just 25 players, a new rule implemented to avoid oversigning, which Dooley called “a challenge.”
“I think a lot of schools find themselves a little short then what we normally would be,” Dooley said of the rule. “Is it tricky? Yeah. I’ve been against and I’ll continue to be against it.”