ATHENS, Ga. - Recruiting in Georgia has mattered for a long time to Tennessee football.
It mattered in 1998 when Georgia recruits Jamal Lewis, Deon Grant and Cosey Coleman helped the Vols win a national championship.
It mattered the last three years when Georgia native Eric Berry established himself as one of the best players in UT history with highlight hits and one spectacular interception return after another.
And it will matter Saturday at Sanford Stadium when the Vols try to upset the Bulldogs with four Georgians, including leading rusher Tauren Poole, in their starting lineup.
But it might matter more than ever as Derek Dooley establishes his program at UT.
No longer do you have Vols recruiting Georgians. You have an ex-Georgian recruiting Georgians.
Not just any Georgian, but the son of legendary Georgia coach Vince Dooley.
"I think the (Dooley) name still means something," said Brunswick High School coach Victor Floyd. "It means a national championship (in 1980).
"I came here from South Carolina, and I've had more people tell me about that national championship than you can shake a stick at."
One of Floyd's players, defensive back Justin Coleman, already has committed to play football at UT in 2011. So has safety Brian Randolph of Kell High Schoool in Marietta, Ga.
"I went to (the university of) Georgia," said Derek Cook, Randolph's coach. "I always hated Tennessee.
"Then, they hired (Derek) Dooley. Well, that was a good move."
Georgia high school players seem to agree. Five of them have committed to the Vols for 2011.
And all five of them are having outstanding senior seasons.
Here's a look at UT's five Georgia commitments through the first half of the season.
n Brian Randolph: A hard-hitting free safety on Kell's unbeaten team, he has been compared favorably to other prominent players (pros Jonathan Dwyer and Kenny McKinley) from the same school.
"He's better because he can do more things," Cook said.
Randolph is 6 feet, 190 pounds, runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, and has a 4.1 grade-point average, according to his coach, who appreciates his toughness as much as his physical skills.
He rushed for 1,300 yards and had 137 tackles last season despite playing the entire year with an injured right shoulder.
"The shoulder would slip out of place even when he was raising his arm for a fair catch," Cook said. "Most kids would have just hung it up."
The shoulder has healed, and Randolph is hitting harder than ever. He already has 97 tackles in his senior season.
"Receivers are tentative coming across the middle, because they know they're going to get lit up," Cook said. "He had to lead with his other shoulder last year."
Cook doesn't anticipate Randolph having any difficulty adjusting to the college game.
"He will play as a freshman at Tennessee," he said. "He's got such a competitive streak, he won't stay on the bench."
n Justin Coleman: He's expected to play cornerback in college, but he's playing just about everywhere in his senior season at Brunswick. For example, take Brunswick's 64-62 overtime loss to Valdosta.
Coleman (5-11, 175) played 146 plays in the game, according to his coach. His workload has come at a variety of positions: cornerback, safety, running back and wide receiver.
Not only does he excel in football. He's a track star, too.
"He would be the favorite to sweep the hurdles at state if he stayed (through the spring semester)," Floyd said. "A lot of kids would want to gloat in their senior season.
"But he will be an early enrollee (at UT). He's a very mature kid."
While Coleman is passing on track, his scoring reflects his athletic versatility in football. He has touchdowns this season rushing, receiving, on an interception and on a punt return.
"He doesn't get a lot to his side (as a cornerback)," Floyd said. "Ware (High School) tested him on the first series last week.
"They ran a vertical route, and he intercepted. They didn't test him anymore."
Floyd rates Coleman ahead of South Carolina defensive back C.C. Whitlock, whom he coached in high school. He contends that Coleman should be a top-20 prospect in Georgia.
"But we're over here on the coast," said Floyd, referring to his school's lack of publicity.
n Christian Harris: After playing outside linebacker as a junior at Etowah High School in Woodstock, he moved to middle linebacker as a senior. The switch was an easy decision for coach Bill Stewart.
"I wanted my biggest and best in there," Stewart said. "We play a 4-3 (defense) just like Tennessee."
Stewart's biggest and best is noticeably bigger than last season when Harris played at 205 pounds.
Harris is now 6-2, 230 pounds and is breaking school weightlifting records.
"He's bigger, faster and stronger," Stewart said.
Harris had 18 tackles and an interception two games ago. Last week, he had 15 tackles in the first half of a one-sided game but didn't play in the second.
His increased knowledge of the game is another factor in his overall improvement.
"He spends his lunch hour in the field house watching film," Stewart said. "He's eat up with it.
"He's book smart but he's also football smart."
n Alan Posey: An offensive tackle at the same high school where Dooley once played, Posey is one of several college prospects on Clarke Central's unbeaten team. He's coached by Leroy Ryals, who was on Nick Saban's staff at LSU with Dooley.
When Ryals was hired at Clarke Central, Posey was only in the seventh grade. But he was already 6-4.
He's just now getting comfortable with his size, according to his coaches.
"(Posey) is more mature this season and he's also keeping his weight down," Ryals said of the 6-6, 295-pound offensive tackle. "When he keeps his weight down, he's tough. When he starts getting above 300, he's not as agile and struggles at times.
"He has been as high as 320 in the off-season. We had to watch him.
"But he's done a good job. He's feeling better about himself and running better. That big sucker can run."
Posey has something else going for him.
"He's a college football junkie," Ryals said. "He studies college football.
"He calls me every weekend, saying, 'Did you see this game, did you see that game?' I've got to worry about our game."
Ryals expects the similarities in his system and Dooley's will aid Posey in his transition to college.
"A lot of the terminology, the way we do things are just like what they do at Tennessee," he said. "And some of the things we do in practice are the same.
"I think it will be a smooth transition for him."
n A.J. Johnson: He began the season as the leader of Gainesville High School's defense. Now, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker is a force in the running game as well.
"I couldn't get our ground game going," said Gainesville coach Bruce Miller, whose team is now 4-1, thanks, in part, to Johnson's expanded role.
Johnson sparked the running game right away when Gainesville gave him the ball in the Wildcat package. Miller had to see only one practice to figure out it was a good move.
"Our scout team couldn't tackle him," Miller said. "I was afraid he was going to hurt somebody."
In a 20-13 victory over North Hall, Johnson rushed for 192 yards and scored three touchdowns.
He broke seven tackles on a 55-yard run in the second half.
Johnson's increased workload hasn't affected his defense. He still has had double-figure tackles in every game.
"He gets better almost daily," Miller said. "Because whatever you tell him to work on, that's what he's going to do."
Miller believes Johnson could play defensive end or linebacker in college - "wherever you need him."
"It wouldn't surprise me if he started as a freshman at Tennessee," Miller said. "He doesn't like being on the bench."