Tennessee Stat Book
Melrose High School football coach Hubbard Alexander scoffs at the perception that Tennessee can't recruit in Memphis.
He's one of the few coaches in the area that has evidence to prove it wrong.
Alexander coached linebacker Greg King, who signed with the Vols in 2009, and athlete Tino Thomas, who committed to the Vols last month. King and Thomas are the only two players from the River City area to align with the Vols since Chris Walker (Christian Brothers) in 2007 and Victor Thomas (Olive Branch, Miss.) in 2006.
"It's not that far away," Alexander said. "It's not like you're going to UCLA or UNC."
That's certainly true, but, in terms of the SEC, UT is one of the longest hauls from Memphis. The entire SEC West, according to Google Maps, is a shorter drive. Vanderbilt, of course, is about half the distance as well.
State pride, apparently, only goes so far. And for the majority of Memphis-area recruits, it's stopped well short of UT.
"The proximity of the (SEC West) schools, that definitely helps them to come into Memphis," said Rodney Saulsberry, the head coach at Whitehaven High, which has produced a number of Division I prospects over the past few years.
"But if they're coming to get them, I would think Tennessee would want to come in and get them, too. If they're good enough to play at Alabama, I would think they're good enough to play at Tennessee."
UT has had some definite misses in Memphis over the past few years, but it also has smartly backed off highly ranked players who never panned out or even qualified.
In 2010, eight Memphis-area players were featured in Rivals.com's Top 10 in the state of Tennessee. UT didn't sign any of them.
The departure of Philip Fulmer and the arrival of Lane Kiffin in 2008 certainly didn't help the Vols in their pursuit of the state's top two prospects, both of whom hailed from Memphis. Wide receiver Marlon Brown (Harding Academy) and offensive lineman Austin Long (Briarcrest Christian) both eventually signed with Georgia.
Though the Vols lost out in the pursuit of offensive lineman Michael Oher in 2005, they signed the Memphis area's second-, third- and fourth-highest ranked players in Malcolm Rawls, Todd Cox and Dan Williams. Only Williams finished his playing career at UT.
Recruits from Memphis, just like any major city, might not always pan out, but UT is willing to take the risk.
"It's one of those hotbeds where you stay in," UT recruiting coordinator Terry Joseph said. "We're going to try to do what we got to do to get them out of there."
Wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett is the Vols' top recruiter in Greater Memphis and Joseph focuses heavily on the Jackson area. Baggett admitted that the Vols had to play a bit of catch-up when Derek Dooley initially took over at UT.
"We felt like it was an area we had to cultivate and do a better job in," Baggett said. "I think there's athletes year in and year out that we have to be able to get.
"I feel good about it. We feel good about the area."
Compared to past years, it's a down season for Memphis-area recruits, who, in the past, have dominated the recruiting rankings for the state of Tennessee. Three of the area's players, including Thomas, comprise Rivals.com's Top 10 list in 2011, and only two of those players, also including Thomas, received offers from the Vols.
If the Vols can land the signature of four-star tight end/offensive tackle Cameron Clear (Central High), it would mark the first time in nearly 10 years that they acquire the Memphis area's top-ranked prospect.
Clear, ranked second in the state by Rivals.com behind Nashville's Antonio Richardson, has the Vols in his final five, which also features Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama and Duke. Clear, who has been on campus twice this year and plans to attend tonight's game at Memphis, said he plans to make UT one of his last official visits in January.
He said he would not announce his decision until he takes all five of his allotted official visits.
"They seem hyped about having me and they show me a lot of love every time I come on a visit," Clear said. "The players seem just like Coach Dooley. It's made me feel good on my visits."
Though scouts project Clear to eventually play offensive tackle, he said he wants at least "a shot" to play the position he loves most.
The impending departure of senior Luke Stocker makes UT a potentially attractive landing spot, Clear said.
"The depth chart plays a big part," he said. "I want to come right in and have a possibility to play."