Football players grow thick in Florida, so much so that Tennessee running back Marlin Lane had to pause for breath when he rattled off the names of friends he has on the Florida Gators roster.
Lane, a Daytona Beach, Fla., native, is even related to two Gators, including tailback Mike Gillislee, his cousin.
"Once we're on the field, we go to war," Lane said. "After the game, we're friends."
Florida churns out hundreds of football prospects like Lane and Gillislee each year, and it's long been an essential recruiting territory for the Vols. During the past four years, the Vols have signed 17 prospects from Florida, nearly as many as the 19 signed from Tennessee.
"It's extremely important for us to be able to go get players out of Florida and bring them to Tennessee," said receivers coach Darin Hinshaw, the Vols' recruiting coordinator.
That's makes Saturday's hotly-awaited game between Tennessee (2-0) and Florida (2-0) (TV: ESPN, 6 p.m.) important beyond its impact on the SEC East standings. It has recruiting ramifications, too.
From a three-hour kick
off show originating just outside Neyland Stadium to a prime-time broadcast slot for a much-anticipated rivalry game, it will be tough to watch college football on Saturday without seeing orange. And Tennessee hopes a few very important viewers in the Sunshine State will be getting the message.
"There are a lot of kids who have grown up and they don't know about Tennessee and where this program's been and what we've won," Hinshaw said.
No state other than perhaps Georgia is more important to the Vols' current recruiting efforts than Florida. Fourteen current Vols are from Florida, including key contributors like Lane, defensive end Maurice Couch (Orlando) and linebacker Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach).
"(Florida) is still a big emphasis," said Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. "We've gotten a lot of kids from the Jacksonville/Gainesville area. Orlando has been good to us. There are a lot of good players down there, but there's a lot of competition."
To reel in players in an area crowded with competition, Tennessee must cast a much wider net.
According to a 247 Sports recruiting database, Tennessee has offered 242 players in the Class of 2013. Of those, 38 players are from Florida and 15 from Tennessee. In 2012, of 192 offers in the database, 29 were to Florida players and 10 were to prospects from Tennessee.
Dooley said the smallest things can make a difference — like affordable direct flights from Florida to Knoxville so family can attend games. Hinshaw has honed his pitch to focus on kids who grew up with little concept of Vols' history.
"We show them our stadium, all the things we put into football, all our facilities, and then all the players we sent to the NFL," Hinshaw said. "(Football) is big here and these kids don't know that. Getting that message out constantly to them is important."
Tennessee hopes Saturday's game in front of 105,000 cheering fans will send a loud message.
"It's always good to be in the spotlight," Hinshaw said.
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.