The saying in baseball is get him on, get him over and get him in.
In college football it’s more get him committed, get him signed, get him in and then develop him.
Butch Jones is building a strong track record for those first three parts for Tennessee – especially the third one – getting players in.
After the news broke on Monday that junior college linebacker Chris Weatherd had been academically cleared, Jones is now an astounding 53 of 54 in getting his signees to campus. The lone anomaly was 2013 running back Jabo Lee, who was somewhat of a loaded situation that had injury and academic concerns all wrapped together.
Back to Jones getting 53 of 54 signees – 98.1 percent – to campus. Consider that South Carolina, as of earlier this month, still reportedly had over a third of its class in academic limbo.
Derek Dooley lost four before they got to campus in his first year alone (though I bet there’s some UT fan out there still hoping Eddrick Loften will make it eventually). A few others such as running back Davonte Bourque and Pat Martin were barely fitted for their pads before taking off.
This isn’t so much about Jones recruiting only 4.0 GPA students. He certainly has collected a few of those such as quarterback Joshua Dobbs and, after speaking to 2016 offensive lineman commitment Ryan Johnson (who has a 4.3 GPA) over the weekend, it’s clear that getting bright kids is a priority for Jones.
But more than that, it’s about Jones and his staff having a plan and being on top of it. The formal recruiting might be over for the previous class, but the monitoring and the encouraging doesn’t stop. So when a situation like Weatherd’s arises, the staff is all over it and does everything in its power to overcome it.
“They kept telling me to keep my head down, keep my work up and to stay focused on all I needed to do,” Weatherd told RTI earlier this month as he waited to hear of his fate. “They were always motivating me to get my work done so I could make it. These coaches cared. They always tried to motivate me and they made sure that I was doing what I needed to do to get on Rocky Top.”
Now he’s made it. And so has the rest of an enormous 32-man signing class that Jones has called the foundation of what he’s trying to build at UT. There’s still a ton of work to be done going forward. The development phase might be the most important of them all and this team needs a lot of it.
Jones seems to have the first few steps down, however. He proved that again on Monday.