Wednesday, Kiffin, Orgeron and the rest of a staff of espoused “super recruiters” lured a pair of prospects out of the grasp of Florida on national signing day. The duo, wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson and athlete Marsalis Teague, rank among the biggest highlights of a 19-player class that may yet be complete.
“In order to beat the national champion on the field, you have to beat the national champion in recruiting,” said Orgeron, the Volunteers’ recruiting coordinator and defensive line coach. “And we beat them twice.”
Tennessee also beat out Alabama and LSU, which compiled the top two classes in the country according to Rivals.com, for Atlanta safety Darren Myles.
The class includes players from eight states, with 11 on the defensive side of the ball. Twelve of the 19 signees are rated as four-star prospects by either Rivals.com or Scout.com.
Good, but not good enough in the long haul, according to Kiffin.
“Understand this class is far below the standards that we have here and what we’ll have in the future,” Kiffin said. “I don’t think this class is over. I think you’re going to see a big surprise coming in pretty quick.”
Several top-flight prospects, including top-rated running back Bryce Brown and former UT commitment David Oku, said they would wait until after national signing day to make their decisions.
Richardson appeared firm in his commitment to the Gators. His switcheroo makes him one of the jewels in Kiffin’s first class at Tennessee.
A receiver from Pahokee, Fla., Richardson had refused to take visits anywhere else but new UT running backs coach Eddie Gran successfully wooed Richardson to Rocky Top.
“Pahokee kids that Florida wants go to Florida,” Kiffin said. “That’s happened for a long time.”
Teague, who hails from Paris, Tenn., is considered the fourth-best prospect in the state. During his senior season at Henry County High School, he scored 18 touchdowns rushing, threw for 15 more and also reached the end zone returning interceptions, punts and kickoffs.
Myles is ranked as highly as the No. 5 safety in the nation according to ESPN. He could follow in the footsteps of current UT safety Eric Berry; Orgeron said he expects Myles to compete for a starting job this fall.
Kiffin vowed to build a fence around the state’s borders when he was hired. Teague helped UT snare four of the top 10 in-state prospects. Cornerback Eric Gordon, linebacker Greg King and wide receiver Zach Rogers are the others.
The Vols lost out on wide receiver Marlon Brown, the top prospect in Tennessee and No. 3 receiver in the country. Brown signed with Georgia.
“He called last night and said he loved it here, but his grandmother wouldn’t let him come,” Kiffin said. “I don’t know what you say about that.”
Other highlights in the class include Jerod Askew, a linebacker out of Chesapeake, Va., considered one of the top run-stoppers in the country; Gordon, a Nashville native who is one of the top 20 cornerbacks nationally; and New Jersey native Nyshier Oliver, a former Notre Dame commitment.
Defensive lineman Marlon Walls, originally part of the 2007 class who failed to academically qualify, re-committed.
Four signees — lineman Montori Hughes, end Rae Sykes, linebacker Nigel Mitchell-Thornton and running back Toney Williams — enrolled in January.
Four SEC schools finished with classes ranked in Rivals’ top 10. Tennessee was in that territory when Phillip Fulmer announced his imminent departure as coach. Athletic director Mike Hamilton said UT would honor all scholarships, but Kiffin told quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Bryce Petty and athlete Damien Thigpen they didn’t fit his system and should look elsewhere.
“There’s a number of good players that don’t necessarily fit our system or our style of coaching,” Kiffin said.
The aggression of the coaching staff also worked against UT in some cases.
“Our staff is very intense,” Kiffin said. “I don’t think it’s for everybody. It scares some kids. We try to give them a dose of reality in that 48-hour visit instead of just fluff.”
Kiffin and his staff already are working on the 2010 class, and finding an elite quarterback will be a top priority. UT already has its first verbal commitment for ’10: Ooltewah defensive end Jacquez Smith, considered one of the top junior prospects in Tennessee.
For more on signing day at Tennessee, visit John Moorehouse’s “Orange Clockwork” blog at www.timesnews.net.