When coach Lane Kiffin went to secure the best in-state prospect in Tennessee, he quickly noticed a problem: He wasn't in the state.
Jacques Smith, who committed to UT on National Signing Day, was no where to be found when Kiffin visited Ooltewah High School. Trouble was afoot - Smith was flirting with the enemy just south of the border.
"I had taken a visit to Georgia that weekend for bowl practice," the 6-foot-3, 225-pound defensive end said. "While I was gone he (Kiffin) came to my high school to visit me. I wasn't there. I was in Athens."
Kiffin quickly put an end to that with a scholarship offer that Smith couldn't refuse. Smith bypassed the recruiting trail for the Tennessee express.
"I think if I got on board right now it would draw other people on board also," Smith said.
While Florida coach Urban Meyer is wondering if Smith has taken the NCAA's recruiting test, Smith is thinking about where he can be an evangelist for the Kiffin movement at UT. Smith said he'll even extol the virtues of UT to opponents on the field in the fall.
There's no high school football field across the state that is too sacred for such a sales pitch.
Smith already has a sales pitch for undecided prospects. With your future intact, enjoy your senior season.
"That was one of the reasons why I had a really good season last year, is because I didn't have to worry about anything," Smith said.
If I were Kiffin, I'd get Smith a Blackberry if NCAA rules would allow it. If not, a little black book (that could actually be orange) would help. Smith is the perfect pitchman for fellow prospects. He's really good and really well spoken.
"I think I can have a big impact on Tennessee recruiting," Smith said. "I think I can probably persuade a lot of people from the Tennessee area to come to Tennessee."<0x00A0>
Smith's impact can come in the spring and summer, long before prospects have hardened against various recruiters. Smith also has some celebrity to impress.
He's the first prospect in the state to commit to Kiffin for 2010 and he's the best prospect in the state.
Best of all for UT's recruiting efforts, Smith is almost as much a Kiffin fan as he is a UT fan. Despite growing up just down the road from Neyland Stadium, Smith wasn't a diehard UT fan growing up. But it didn't take him long to become a Kiffin fan.
Here are some of the in-state prospects Smith and Kiffin could soon be calling on:
n OL O.C. Brown from Manassas High in Memphis: The River City is always strong but this is an especially talented year. Brown is another example.
n TE Harrison Jones from Evangelical Christian School in Memphis: Jones already has some scholarship offers but could be waiting on an offer from Alabama, where his brother, Barrett Jones, is an offensive lineman.
n LB Justin Maclin from Ridgeway: Maclin could prove to be the gem of Memphis in 2010. He reportedly has offers from UT, Florida and LSU. UT coaches say they will own Memphis; Maclin is a must.
n WR Keiwone Malone from Mitchell High in Memphis: Malone committed to Alabama last week but that won't stop UT. He is likely the top receiver prospect in the state and possibly the best skill-position player.
n TB Orleans Opoku-Darkwa from Ensworth High in Nashville: The 5-10, 190-pounder has rushed for more than 3,300 yards in the last two seasons. He's almost as hard to tackle as his name is to pronounce.
n DL Travei Pryor from Austin-East: Perhaps a project, Pryor is big, athletic and has tremendous upside.
n DE Tyler Robinson from Alcoa: Here's a shocker: there's a talented defensive end in Blount County. The tradition continues.
n OL James Stone from Maplewood High in Nashville: UT needs offensive linemen for its 2010 class. The 6-5, 300-pounder may fit the bill.
n OL Zak Tait from Catholic: Tait suffered a devastating knee injury in 2007 and sat out the 2008 season. If he returns to form, he'll be one of the top prospects in the state.
n TB Eric Watson from Melrose High School in Memphis: Another Memphis prospect, Watson has transferred three time in high school.
Dave Hooker covers recruiting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.