Nigel Mitchell-Thornton is ready to break the mold.
No longer will Tennessee look at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Ga., as the home of recruiting near misses. With Mitchell-Thornton’s commitment on Friday, there is reason to think the talent-rich area can be fertile ground for UT recruiters.
No longer does UT have to lament the losses of linebackers Kelvin Sheppard and Perry Riley, who signed with LSU, and defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, who signed with Florida, all in 2006.
Now, thanks to first-year receiver coach Latrell Scott, UT has achieved victory in what was once a land of disappointment.
“That’s what coach Scott was telling me, that I’m special because I’m one of the first guys from the area (to commit to UT),” Mitchell-Thornton said. “He said they used to always recruit around this area but no guys would ever come up to Tennessee.
“I really took that into consideration.”
Mitchell-Thornton’s mentality helped UT. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound linebacker didn’t feel obliged to stay close to home.
“A lot of people say I have a different personality,” he said. “I don’t always go with the crowd. I’m my own person.
“I have confidence in myself to be able to go to school and do the right things while I’m there … in order for me to be successful.”
Mitchell-Thornton registered 106 tackles, six sacks and 12 tackles for a loss last season. That sort of production helped him amass 22 scholarship offers. Before selecting the Vols, his finalists were Michigan, Stanford, Georgia Tech and Mississippi State.
“The first time Tennessee offered,” Mitchell-Thornton said, “we automatically put it on the top.”
Much of UT’s elevation to No. 1 had to do with Scott. The Vols weren’t the first to knock on Mitchell-Thornton’s door, but they were the loudest.
“He really came after me and kept it real the whole time,” Mitchell-Thornton said of Scott. “I really appreciate that.”
Mitchell-Thornton is UT’s 17th commitment of the 2009 class, another sign that the Vols have joined the era of light speed recruiting, in which commitments come fast and early.
“This is a new day,” Mitchell-Thornton said. “You don’t have much time to wait around.”
UT’s attentiveness to Mitchell-Thornton eliminated any possibility that he might wait around for a late scholarship offer from Georgia.
“They weren’t really recruiting me that hard,” he said. “They pretty much already had their linebacking core for this year.”
Mitchell-Thornton was UT’s second linebacker commitment on Friday, joining D.T. Shackelford of Austin High School in Decatur, Ala.
“That is great,” Mitchell-Thornton said. “Coach (Phillip) Fulmer said he had another linebacker that committed and that it was a great day.”