Photo by Wichita Eagle
Press conference coverage
Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin secured a historic prospect when tailback Bryce Brown announced he would be a Vol on Monday.
UT touted the latest member of its 2009 class as the “highest-rated player to ever sign with Tennessee” in a news release.
Brown is rated as the top prospect in the nation by Rivals, the second-best by Scout and eighth-best by ESPN.
The Parade All-American rushed for more than 3,500 yards and 50 touchdowns in his last two high school seasons.
“We believe the addition of Bryce Brown improves an already great class,” Kiffin said in the release. “To be able to sign the No. 1 player in the country before we even play our first game speaks volumes for our great university and this coaching staff.”
Recruiting Brown to UT was a group project. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and running backs coach Eddie Gran led the charge, followed by Kiffin and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron.
Brown announced his decision at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame on Monday afternoon.
“It’s like a roller-coaster ride,” Brown said of the recruiting process. “I didn’t expect for it to turn out like this but some things happened that I didn’t expect. We had to come up with an alternative plan, so that’s what we did.”
Brown committed to Miami in February 2008 but said at the time he’d still take all five of his NCAA-allotted official visits. While doing so, Miami made a change at offensive coordinator, which seemed to sour Brown on the Hurricanes.
Through an unnamed source, the Hurricanes said publicly in mid-February that they weren’t willing to wait on Brown and wouldn’t reissue a letter of intent if he didn’t sign within two weeks of National Signing Day on Feb. 4.
It’s unclear if Miami made good on its public ultimatum and withdrew its scholarship offer to Brown.
The highly touted tailback from Wichita (Kan.) East High School also considered Oregon, Clemson and LSU.
In retrospect, Brown tipped his hand when he took a visit to Knoxville last weekend and toured campus in a bright orange parka. He was greeted with chants of “Bryce Brown” by approximately 2,000 fans who watched the Vols practice in Neyland Stadium.
The addition of Brown elevated UT’s 2009 class to eighth in the nation and fourth in the SEC by Scout, and 10th in the nation and third in the SEC by Rivals.
That’s a vast improvement since National Signing Day when the Vols ranked 22nd in the nation and 10th-best in the SEC by both recruiting services.
Brown’s handler, Brian Butler, acted as the master of ceremonies for the press conference that began with a group prayer led by Brown’s pastor.
Brown thanked Butler for his help in the recruiting process. Butler is a self-described trainer and mentor.
The New York Times reported that the NCAA is investigating Butler and his association with several prospects, including Brown.
“Without you,” Brown said to Butler, “none of this would have been possible today.”
Brown made reference to his brother, Arthur Brown Jr., who was in attendance for the press conference as the “most important person to me.” The older brother is a linebacker at Miami.
“I know how bad he wants me to play at the University of Miami with him,” Bryce Brown said. “But he never put any pressure on me. He was always there to support me and that means a lot to me.”
Brown hinted that there was plenty of family pressure for him to play at Miami with his brother — especially from his mother.
“I just want to thank my dad for being the peacemaker in the house,” Brown joked.
Logic seemed to dictate that UT wouldn’t be able land both Brown and David Oku from Lincoln (Neb.) East High School. Oku committed to UT but, like Brown, didn’t sign his letter of intent until well after signing day — on March 5.
UT’s future at tailback seems solid. The Vols signed Toney Williams from Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga., as part of their 22-man, 2009 signing class.
Williams enrolled at UT in January and ran the ball well in Friday night’s scrimmage. UT recently signed two other highly rated tailbacks: Tauren Poole and Lennon Creer in 2008 and 2007, respectively.
Senior Montario Hardesty has been one of the standouts in spring practice.
Brown is thought to be the last undecided prospect on UT’s board for 2009. The Vols picked up three highly rated, post-signing day signees: cornerback Janzen Jackson from Barbe High School in Lake Charles, La., Brown and Oku.
Brown’s said his return trip to Knoxville was “very important” to his decision.
Brown’s first visit to UT in February left him unsure of the Vols’ offensive direction and he admittedly “didn’t have a good feeling” about UT.
Then came last week’s “surprise” visit. Rumors swirled that Brown would visit Knoxville but there was no confirmation until he showed up at UT’s practice.
Prognosticators wondered what chance the Vols had since Brown’s parents didn’t make either trip to Knoxville with their son.
Yet Brown found his answer via a premonition during his pre-visit prayer on his follow-up trip.
“I asked God before I went down there to reveal it to me,” the 6-foot, 215-pounder said. “When I first went down there, I really wasn’t feeling it. Before I left, I got the sign.
“That right then and there told me I would be a Volunteer.”