The Tennessee Volunteers are in a rebuilding mode under first year head coach Butch Jones, and if the program wants to beat the SEC teams it will play on the field, it must first beat them on the recruiting trail.
Over the weekend, Jones and his staff made a huge stride forward in making that happen. Safety Todd Kelly Jr., the 59th-ranked player in the class of 2014 (per Rivals), made his commitment to Rocky Top after netting scholarship offers from SEC foes such as Alabama and Florida.
First things first: The 6-foot-1, 190-pound Kelly is a Knoxville native. One of the surest signs of success in the early stages of a college coach’s career is the ability of said coach to build a proverbial fence around his home state. The top two players in Tennessee last recruiting cycle, Jalen Ramsey and Vonn Bell, decided to go to Florida State and Ohio State, respectively.
The fact that Jones, who is really only getting his feet wet in the SEC after coming over from Cincinnati, was able to keep Kelly in-state should speak volumes on the trail going forward.
Beyond the in-state cred this immediately brings Jones’ regime, Kelly is also a legacy.
His father, Todd Kelly, was a superstar defensive end in Knoxville and a first-round NFL Draft selection in 1993. Not every son wants to go where his father is a legend — the pressure can be enormous or any number of other reasons — but Junior did not hesitate to take on the challenge.
Kelly Jr. understands the culture and expectations that go into being a football player at the University of Tennessee, because his father lived it.
Now he will, and that should make Vols Nation excited to get back to the culture of winning that Rocky Top enjoyed during the run of his father.