Five-star running back Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville (Tenn.) Beech took to Twitter at 8:32 a.m. Thursday to make an important announcement.
Five-star running back Jalen Hurd announced his commitment to the Vols on Thursday. Tennessee didn't sign a five-star recruit for 2013.
"I have officially committed to play football at The University of Tennessee," his Tweet said.
Hurd's words sent shockwaves throughout the Volunteer community, as fans that have watched the program suffer through a half-decade of mediocrity, are eager to see things get turned around.
For Tennessee, Hurd became commit No. 5, and the third pickup from inside the state. With his pledge, the hot-starting Vols rose to No. 7 in the 247Sports recruiting team rankings.
But because recruiting is a marathon, the question many college football observers no doubt will ask is this -- can first-year coach Butch Jones and his staff keep it up?
Time will tell, but the players currently on board with the 2014 Vols class don't believe this is the peak, but rather the start of big things.
"I expect us to have a top class nationally," said four-star safety Todd Kelly Jr. of Knoxville (Tenn.) Webb School, who pledged to the Vols last Sunday.
For Tennessee, which hasn't won more than seven games in a season since 2007 and now has its fourth head coach since 2008, one absolute needed to get back on track is to keep the top in-state talent at home. That's why the commitments of Hurd, Kelly and three-star athlete Vic Wharton of Thompson's Station (Tenn.) Independence were so important.
With their 2013 class, the Vols landed only one of the top six prospects in Tennessee. In Hurd and Kelly, they have pledges from the top two for 2014.
Three-star athlete Vic Wharton was the first Vols pledge for 2014.
Commenting on the state of Tennessee in general, Vols recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni said, "Obviously, first and foremost, we’re going to take care of the state of Tennessee. That’s a big emphasis of Coach Jones. We’re going to wrap our arms around this state and really, really do a genuinely good job recruiting in this state and not pay it lip service. We’re going to recruit the state hard, and for obvious reasons — because there’s a hotbed of talent here — and we’re going to make sure that we make the state of Tennessee understand how important the kids are in Tennessee to us."
Kelly, whose father Todd Kelly Sr. was a standout for Tennessee in the early 1990s, insisted right up until the day he committed he was not a Vols lock. In fact, he hadn't planned on really narrowing things down until after taking a trip to the West Coast this spring. But a day after visiting Tennessee last Saturday, he was on board with Jones & Co.
"It just had a family feel to it," Kelly said. "I felt comfortable there. I felt like I fit in. That was the main thing. You don't want to be at a school and feel like you're not happy."
Even though Kelly had strong ties to the school, when asked if he would have committed there if the previous staff under coach Derek Dooley was still in place, he replied, "Probably not."
"Before the new staff got here, I was worried about [the program's lack of recent success]," Kelly said. "I like Coach Jones a lot. They recruited me more than the other staff did. I really appreciated that as soon as they got there, they stopped at my school first. I think it was like the next day."
For Wharton, Jones -- who previously coached three seasons at Cincinnati -- being in Knoxville was the No. 1 factor in his decision to commit, which he did in December to become the first Vols pledge for 2014.
"I loved what Coach Jones did at Cincinnati," Wharton said. "He recruited me for over a year there and Cincinnati was one of my top schools just because of the coaching staff. For me, it wasn't necessarily about the school. When I found out Auburn had an opening and Arkansas had an opening and Tennessee had an opening, I was thinking, 'Man, if Coach Jones goes to an SEC school, I'd probably go where he goes.'"
Until last weekend, Wharton was Tennessee's only 2014 commit.
Tennessee legacy Todd Kelly committed last Sunday.
But offensive lineman Coleman Thomas of Max Meadows (Va.) Fort Chiswell verbaled Saturday, Kelly followed suit Sunday and athlete Neiko Creamer of Bear (Del.) Eastern Christian joined the club Monday. Then came the earthquake Thursday morning, when Hurd gave his pledge.
"The first time I visited with the new staff (Feb. 16), it clicked with me and I knew that Tennessee is where I wanted to be," Hurd told 247Sports' Gerry Hamilton.
Other prospects in the region took notice, including four-star quarterback Drew Barker, a Tennessee target from Kentucky.
"Hurd is a huge get," Barker told Steve Wiltfong, 247Sports analyst. "They have a lot of momentum for sure."
The fast start is not something typical in Knoxville, although it should be noted Tennessee did have four commits this time a year ago. In 2011, the Vols had only one and that didn't stick.
“I just think it’s nine coaches being totally aligned exactly in the same direction on Coach Jones’ message, and we’re spitting that message out and letting them know the plan," Azzanni said. "And the plan is infallible. It works. It’s time-tested and true. Coach Jones and his staff have won four championships in six years, so kids don’t have to wonder what we’re going to do. They know the plan. They’ve seen the plan work at two other places. And you couple that with what Tennessee already has, as far as tradition and things, and I think a lot of good things can happen here."
As with Wharton, Thomas became familiar with Jones and his staff when they were at Cincinnati.
"I'd always been a fan of Coach Jones at Cincinnati since Day 1," Thomas said. "At Tennessee, the facilities are one of a kind. They've got a $50 million indoor complex. And who wouldn't want to play in front of 110,000 people?. They told me to get on board. They're searching to win championships and that's what it's all about. They're trying to get Tennessee football back to where it was, winning Southeastern Conference and national championships.
Vols coach Butch Jones and his staff have Tennessee in the top 10 of the recruiting team rankings.
Tennessee's last SEC title came in 1998. The Vols also won the national championship that season.
The high school players Tennessee is recruiting for the class of 2014 were only 2 or 3 years old at that time.
"I don't remember [the championship season] at all," Kelly said.
The current Tennessee commits have every intention of helping out the staff when it comes to recruiting, they said. Kelly and Wharton have created the Twitter handle, @UTLegendClass, which is described like this in the bio:
"This is the recruiting page of @ToddKellyJr6 and @VWharton5 to build the top recruiting class in the country"
After Hurd committed, Kelly Tweeted, "Did you think I was playing around when I committed early? No, I'm getting this thing rollin' and getting recruits to join me!"
No doubt, the positive vibes are flowing in Knoxville right now. And with another big prospect day on tap for this weekend, the Vols would like nothing more than to keep the momentum going.
"I'm hearing a lot of good things from other recruits," said multi-offer offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. of Suwannee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge, who is heading to Knoxville on Saturday. "It's almost like it's one of the places to be right now. Like Ohio State."
The Vols could sign up to 30 or 31 players in this cycle, so many spots still have to be filled. And, judging by recent on-field results, much help is needed. Additionally, even though Tennessee is No. 7 in the team rankings, that's still only fifth best among SEC teams.
And, of course, Jones and his staff are still five months away from coaching their first game at Tennessee.
In other words, the work in Knoxville has really just begun.
A turnaround, if there is to be one, is still in its infancy.
That said, the Volunteer Nation is excited today, and rightfully so. The program's early success on the recruiting trail has given a hungry fan base something tasty to digest.
"The coaches have high expectations," Kelly said. "They said they want to start winning crystal balls. I believe they can do it."
Ryan Callahan of GoVols247 contributed to this report.
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