Tennessee football coach Butch Jones is trying to stick the landing.
As the final few frames wind down before Wednesday's annual recruiting extravaganza of twists and turns comes to a culmination with 17-year-old future football stars making their ultimate college decisions in the insanity that is national signing day, the Volunteers have some serious momentum.
Major targets Nigel Warrior, Derrick Brown, Landon Dickerson, Tyler Byrd and a few commits were on campus visiting Knoxville this past weekend, so the Vols had the opportunity to make a final, lasting impression on them.
With all those players and the nation's top-ranked JUCO prospect, Jonathan Kongbo, all yet to announce their final destinations, the Vols could have a phenomenal finish.
Throw three or four of those guys into UT's class, and a haul that currently ranks 21st nationally but just eighth in the SEC, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, will shoot up the list noticeably. Considering the small numbers of this year's cycle, the Vols could wind up with a strong smaller class.
They also could crash and burn and have to settle for a class that isn't as strong as the past two years. In the wacky world of recruiting, anything can happen.
One thing's for certain, though: The Vols have set themselves up for a strong finish, and finishing with a bang could definitely be in the cards.
So, just who will Jones wind up signing on Wednesday? These things rarely wind up the way you'd expect, even this close to pen meeting paper and a fax machine making signing papers official. But where's the fun in abstaining from guessing?
Let's predict Tennessee's finish in what could be a week to remember.
Nigel Warrior: 6'0", 186-pound 4-Star Defensive Back, Suwanee, Georgia
For nearly two years, Tennessee has recruited Warrior as arguably the top overall target in this year's haul.
On Wednesday morning, all that hard work should pay off with a pledge from the versatile future star.
Warrior —the son of UT legend and All-American safety Dale Carter —will choose between Tennessee, Auburn, LSU and Alabama. The Vols got the final visit, and they've trended with the Peachtree Ridge High School standout recently; they have 67 percent of the 247Sports Crystal Ball predictions.
Jones loaded up on legacies the past three years, and many of those kids are playing prominent roles in Tennessee's return to the national picture. Warrior will fit right in.
He can play anywhere on the back level, and while Tennessee is loaded in the secondary, a player with Warrior's size, athleticism, coverage skills and versatility can certainly carve a niche right away. He'll likely be a special teams weapon and a situational DB from the start.
Warrior isn't one of these prospects who tips his hand easily, so it's certainly possible he decides to go in his own direction on national signing day. But the lure of the legacy is strong.
"I'll say it’s just wherever my heart takes me," Warrior told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan. "It'd be amazing to follow him, but then it'd also be good to be able to open up my own journey at a different school. It is what it is at the end of the day."
In the end, Warrior is just a natural fit for a Vols team that needs safeties.
Tyler Byrd: 5'11", 194-pound 4-Star Defensive Back, Naples, Florida
As much as Tennessee tried to convince longtime Miami commitment Byrd to visit Knoxville over the past few months, he seemed strong to the Hurricanes.
That's even with having a Vols commitment living in the same house as him, too.
But Byrd —who has lived with running back pledge Carlin Fils-aime since they were in the eighth grade —became more receptive to UT when the Vols hired former Miami coach Larry Scott. He visited this weekend along with Fils-aime.
Afterward, he may have a difficult decision to make.
"Of course, I would love to (attend the same school as Fils-aime)," Byrd told Callahan. "Being around him, we've grown to really love each other, and playing next to him and knowing he's on my team is reassuring. It gives you a sense of security because…I know, at the end of the day, I can depend on him, and I know I can trust him."
That doesn't sound like a guy who's firm to the Hurricanes, and with them having a new head coach in Mark Richt, the prior relationship can't be as strong with that group of coaches as with Al Golden's staff. So, the Vols likely smell blood in the water here.
For what it's worth, Fils-aime is trying to convince his buddy, tweeting out that he tried to lure Byrd to Knoxville with a sign:
You think @D1fuzzymuffin17 gets what I'm trying to say😏 #VolNation #Vols #Tennessee https://t.co/jMtNXcP1zu
Again, Tennessee is loaded in the secondary, but a player like Byrd is too good to pass up. He's a dynamic playmaker, and his athleticism and versatility could even lead to him playing on the offensive side of the ball, if needed.
The U.S. Army All-American would be an excellent addition to Tennessee's class, and it will be too good of an opportunity for him to pass up playing with Fils-aime.
Jonathan Kongbo: 6'5", 264-pound 4-Star Defensive End, Surrey, British Columbia
The one-time UT commitment never really stopped considering the Vols, and while it doesn't normally happen that a player decommits and then recommits to a school, Kongbo could definitely do just that.
He's never really given up on Tennessee.
Though he's gone on visits to USC last weekend and Florida State this weekend and also has Ole Miss as a viable candidate to win his services, Kongbo is an extremely real possibility for UT.
The longstanding relationship could wind up securing his commitment. Several Vols coaches visited him this past week to try to close the deal:
Like a lot of players in this year's target list, Kongbo isn't a chatty type who lets people know what he's thinking. The native of the Republic of Congo whose family lives in British Columbia has gone about the recruiting process professionally.
When he decided to visit other schools, he backed off his commitment. UT continued to recruit other linemen, but it kept the pressure on Kongbo, too. The strong-side defensive end from Arizona Western College continued to reciprocate the interest.
If he winds up in Knoxville, Kongbo is the kind of player who can solidify a defensive line with plenty of star power. With UT in more traditional sets under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Kongbo can slide right in and replace Curt Maggitt opposite Derek Barnett. He also could add 15-20 pounds and play inside.
The best part about Kongbo's raw ability is that he has three years to play there, and even though he'll likely stay on the outside, that's where Tennessee probably needs him most, anyway, with 2016 likely being Barnett's final year on Rocky Top.
Kongbo is going to be getting after quarterbacks somewhere. It may as well be at Tennessee.
Derrick Brown: 6'4", 317-pound 5-Star Defensive Tackle, Buford, Georgia
While most of the experts on the Crystal Ball think Brown will go to either Georgia or Auburn, an out-of-the-box prediction here is that Brown will choose Tennessee on national signing day.
This is a gamble pick that very well could wind up being a swing and miss.
But every time he goes to Knoxville, Brown comes back gushing. While his relationship with Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner could win out in the end, the Vols are a dark horse not getting enough love.
5 days from now, 5 star Derrick Brown will announce his decision. Which of these 5 will it be? https://t.co/jZ7BMdULm7
Brown would step right in to the rotation at Tennessee. His family loves Jones, and Shoop had plenty of opportunities to get to know the Lanier High School star this weekend.
Still, he was mum coming off his visit to Knoxville this past weekend. If the Vols knocked the official visit out of the park, it wouldn't be a stretch to see him wind up signing with Tennessee.
Last year, defensive line coach Steve Stripling proved his recruiting chops by bringing in Kahlil McKenzie and Shy Tuttle, two players who immediately found the field as freshmen. Given the fortune UT had with defensive tackles and its need for more bodies at the position, that's a strong pitch to give Brown.
The Vols desperately need Brown, who'd be the only high school defensive tackle taken by them in this year's cycle. At a position so vital to success in an SEC program, that's a virtual guarantee that Brown will be a big piece of the future puzzle, as well as a rotation guy right away.
Many may think this pick is a reach, but when you put everything together, it makes a ton of sense for Brown to play collegiately in Knoxville. The guess here is he signs with the Vols.
All quotes and information gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information gathered from 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.
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Free Press special writer Sean Merriman has ranked the top 10 high school football recruits in Michigan. Here's his preview of each player and an estimation on where that player will go to college:1. Detroit Cass Tech defensive back Kalon Gervin
Height, weight: 5-foot-11, 180 pounds.
Strengths: Gervin is an elite-level athlete with outstanding speed and exceptional natural instincts for a cornerback. His ability to take over a game makes him worthy of the No. 1 spot in the state.
Leaders: Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Michigan State, Louisville.
2. Belleville offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs
Strengths: Considered by many to be the top offensive tackle in the 2019 class, Dobbs is a physically imposing offensive tackle who uses outstanding hands and footwork to dominate his competition.
Leaders: Michigan, MSU, Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson.
3. Belleville wide receiver/defensive back Julian Barnett
Strengths: Barnett has exceptional size as well as great top-end speed. His ability to shift his hips and adjust to the ball in the air makes him an intriguing cornerback prospect.
Leaders: MSU, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State
Prediction: Ohio State (no offer as of right now).
4. Oak Park offensive lineman Marquan McCall
Strengths: McCall is a technician on the offensive line, using his quick hands and his powerful frame to excel at both run blocking and pass protection.
5. Dearborn Divine Child defensive end Aidan Hutchinson
Strengths: Hutchinson has great size and length, and he is able to use that to his advantage at defensive end. When it comes to dedication tofootball and work ethic, good luck finding a better prospect than Hutchinson.
Be sure to follow Freep Sports on Twitter (@freepsports) and Instagram and like us on on Facebook.
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