Evan Hailes isn’t a Tennessee commitment. He just sounds like it.
“Tennessee, that’s a great place right now,” said the 6-foot-1, 305-pound defensive tackle from Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Va. “They tell me they’ve got a hole in the middle of their defense. I wouldn’t mind filling that hole.”
Hailes hasn’t named a leader for his services. He said he’s trying to give every school an opportunity.
“I’ll know who is at the top by the end of May or June,” he said.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Hailes will visit UT on June 18.
Hailes' high school teammate, linebacker Jerod Askew, signed with the Vols in February.
“He tells me about it all the time, how Tennessee is a good place to be,” Hailes said of Askew’s influence. “They have fans all the time on the Internet just telling him how great it is on Rocky Top and how loud the stadium is.
“It’s an SEC school. Who wouldn’t want to play in the SEC?”
Hailes cites Askew, highly rated tailback signee Bryce Brown and a new coaching staff as reasons to sign with the Vols. Clearly, he’s done his homework – and could see himself following in Askew’s footsteps.
“I could be in his position next year,” Hailes said. “I see how much love he’s getting from them. Who wouldn’t want to be in that position?”
UT coaches Ed Orgeron and Willie Mack Garza are recruiting Hailes, who has offers from UT, LSU, Virginia Tech, Clemson, N.C. State, Boston College, West Virginia, California and Minnesota.
Hailes said he’s excited about the possibility of playing early at UT. Orgeron has said early playing time is a real possibility.
“He said he doesn’t mind starting a freshman if he can get the job done,” Hailes said of Orgeron. “Early playing time sounds great (at any school). But for (UT), that sounds beyond good - a crazy atmosphere, starting as a freshman, getting it done against other SEC schools. It just sounds great.”
The Vols’ coaching staff, ripe with NFL experience, is also a strong draw for Hailes.
“That’s a dream to me, to play in the NFL,” Hailes said. “What person wouldn’t want to do that? If I’ve got a chance to do it, then why wouldn’t I go for it?
“If I’ve got coaches with NFL experience and players that are about to go to the NFL, why wouldn’t I take advantage of that?”
Playing in the SEC, which Hailes calls the “best football conference to be in”, is also important. That would seem to open the door for LSU, yet that’s not the case.
“I thought about it,” Hailes said. “Of course they’re known for getting tackles in the league. That wouldn’t be bad at all for me. (But) I looked at their depth chart and they have a couple of defensive tackles. I’m kind of concerned about that.”
Alabama could be another SEC concern if they come calling in earnest. The Tide has shown interest and is holding a commitment from Hailes’ teammate, quarterback Phillip Simms.
Alabama, however, hasn’t offered a scholarship yet and Hailes doesn’t see one coming since Tide coaches have expressed concern about his height.
As for UT, Hailes feels a kinship to Orgeron in the limited time he’s had to get to know the fiery defensive line coach.
“Him and my line coach are kind of identical; that’s good,” Hailes said. “I need a coach that’s going to cuss me out when I mess up and settle me down and tell me how to do exactly what I need to do.”
Playing alongside Askew is a “big factor”, Hailes said. The two have played together since middle school and have developed a strong chemistry on the field. Hailes lauded Askew’s leadership ability.
“You can be down by 21 and he’ll tell you ‘We’re going to win this game.’” Hailes said.
Hailes’ only definite travel plan to prospective schools this summer is to UT in mid-June. Nearby Virginia Tech is a possibility. All others have work to do to ensure a summer visit.
Hailes said there’s a chance he will commit this summer, which seems to be a strong indication that the Vols could be his final destination.
Josh Ward contributed to this report.