The Beech Buccaneers are about to become the third most popular football team in Tennessee. And that has nothing to do with the program’s 2012 state championship.
It has everything to do with the statewide passion for University of Tennessee football, which is too deeply rooted for even 15 years of an NFL franchise to surpass.
The long-standing fervor for the Vols spread to Hendersonville’s Beech High School in mid-March when five-star running back Jalen Hurd committed to Tennessee.
Beech coach Anthony Crabtree realized the ramifications right away.
“We kind of assumed that with the profile player that (Hurd) is and the craziness that surrounds University of Tennessee football, that we might have more people at our games this fall,” Crabtree said. “I don’t think there’s any question that we will have bigger crowds than normal.”
No question at all.
Few UT commitments have so quickened the fan base’s collective pulse rate. Hurd isn’t just the No. 1 prospect in the state. He’s also at a position of great need for a program whose depth chart no longer overflows with future NFL running backs.
New Vols coach Butch Jones could have added a more significant commitment only by plucking another quarterback off the Manning family tree.
Hurd isn’t a sure thing, of course. But his numbers suggest he’s enticingly close.
UT coaches measured him at 6-3¾, said Crabtree, who adds that Hurd now weighs between 232 and 235 pounds. He also mentioned that Ole Miss clocked Hurd at 4.37 seconds in the 40 as a sophomore at its summer camp.
The greatest concern about Hurd entering his senior season might be that he could outgrow his position, which currently favors more compact practitioners, often in the 205-to-215-pound range and between 5-10 and 6-0.
But when Hurd clutches a football and darts for an opening, you don’t notice his height.
“Even though he’s 6-3, his pad level is very good,” Crabtree said. “He runs like a 5-10 running back.”
Hurd has something else going for him as a running back. It’s his position of choice.
“That’s why he does not want to go to Alabama,” Crabtree said. “When he went to Alabama last summer and they split the players up, they asked him to come work with the safeties.
“He won’t play defense at the next level.”
He will play just about everything for the Buccaneers. His workload will include starting at free safety, a position he has played sparingly in the past, and occasionally shifting to wide receiver, or to quarterback in the Wildcat package.
None of that will intrude on Hurd’s primary responsibility.
“He’ll carry the ball 35 or 40 times a game,” his coach said.
Crabtree doesn’t expect Hurd’s college career, which likely will begin next January as an early enrollee, will distract him from his high school assignment.
For the past two springs, Hurd could have missed football practices while rehabbing injuries.
“But he never missed a minute,” Crabtree said. “That’s how he is about football.”
Crabtree isn’t so sure about the players who will surround Hurd this fall. His team suffered heavy losses in the offensive line and on defense. But he loves the work ethic of his new offensive line, and believes he has plenty of talent at the skill positions.