A superstar in Chattanooga and a trifecta of talent in Memphis highlight what's shaping up to be another solid recruiting year in Tennessee.
Imposing Chattanooga defensive lineman Demonte Bolden is the undisputed top prospect in the state, but all eyes are on Melrose High School when it comes to depth of talent.
Three of its players - Joseph Doss, Antonio Heffner and Ellix Wilson - are being heavily recruited by the Southeastern Conference and beyond.
In this feature, Rivals100 analyst Jeff Drummond gives his feedback on who he believes are the top 10 players in the state for the Class of 2004.
1. Demonte Bolden Defensive Tackle/Defensive End 6-5, 294, 4.7 Chattanooga Tyner Academy
Bolden, who made an early commitment to Tennessee, is a member of the Rivals100 Team and one of the elite players at his position for the Class of 2004. He picked the home state Vols over a number of other impressive scholarship offers, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Penn State. He owns a massive frame with the potential to put on even more muscle and boasts a huge wingspan. With a stunning 4.7 forty, he has the potential to play either tackle or end for the Volunteers. As a junior, he recorded a whopping 140 tackles, 29 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. "We just tell Demonte to get angry and get after the quarterback," Tyner Academy coach Wayne Turner said. "He does that, and does that well."
Holbert projects as one of the South's top fullbacks for 2004 coming off a junior season which saw him rush for more than 800 yards and provide strong blocking for the state runner-up squad. But it's not statistics, rather raw physical tools, that makes Holbert so impressive. He sports a 320-pound bench press and a 450-pound squat to go along with his 4.6 speed. That's helped draw offers from LSU, Tennessee, Auburn, Louisville, Colorado and Middle Tennessee State. He is also receiving serious attention from Georgia, Wisconsin and Iowa, among others. Holbert says he grew up a Georgia fan, so the Bulldogs could be a serious contender if they offer.
Explosiveness. In a word, that's how Melrose coach Kedrick Ingram describes his offensive playmaker. Doss, who rushed for 1,328 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior, has been known to put up sub-4.4 times in the 40-yard dash. "He's a legit 4.37 guy. He can really fly," Ingram said. "But he runs hard, too. He's an elusive kid who, if you get a shot at him, he's hard to knock down. He has really powerful legs. He's a rare combination of speed and power." Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Memphis have all offered scholarships. Auburn, Tennessee, Georgia Tech and LSU are also in the mix. Doss says the Razorbacks currently hold the lead in his recruitment.
Mills was a finalist for Mr. Football as a junior, so big things are expected of him again this season. The big, powerful defensive lineman features an explosive first step, which helped him rack up 71 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks last year. Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Colorado, Oklahoma State and Memphis have taken notice, extending scholarship offers. He's also being recruited by national powers like Oklahoma and Notre Dame. Mills says he's "wide open" at this stage.
Wilson's brother, Cedric, was a wideout for the University of Tennessee, so the Vols are expected to hold the early lead for Ellix if a scholarship offer is extended. Many believe that's all but a certainty. He has offers from Arkansas and Ole Miss. Wilson is known as an aggressive playmaker in the secondary. "He runs like a corner, but I think he's going to wind up being a safety because he's such an aggressive, physical kid," Melrose coach Kedrick Ingram said. "When you see him on film, it's a bunch of highlights of him knocking people out. He's a big-time hitter who always seems to get himself in position to make plays. He's a difference-maker." Wilson has 12 career interceptions to his credit.
Blowe is an impressive all-around athlete who played quarterback as a junior - passing for 400 yards and rushing for 700 - but could project at numerous "skill" positions at the college level. Some feel he will eventually settle in at defensive back, but he says he'd like the opportunity to continue playing quarterback if possible. Blowe has received early offers from Auburn, Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee while drawing interest from Arkansas, Georgia Georgia Tech, Louisville, Memphis and Tennessee. Auburn and Georgia are his current leaders.
Heffner is yet another top athlete coming out of Melrose in 2004. He's new to the sport - playing football for the first time last fall - but it didn't take long for him to make an impact. As a junior, Heffner threw for 1,439 yards and 18 touchdowns. "He's got all the tools," Melrose coach Kedrick Ingram said. "He's a good athlete. He has the size and the feet. He's got a really strong arm. He can throw it 65 yards, but he's also accurate. People who watch his film immediately fall in love with the way he throws the deep out. That's probably the hardest throw to make, and Antonio makes it look easy. He's got the arm strength and accuracy to get the ball into what seems to be impossible places." Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are among the schools making early offers to Heffner.
Wolke has been the state's most heavily recruited signal caller to date, sporting early offers from the likes of Michigan, Nebraska, Syracuse, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest. Tennessee, Alabama and Notre Dame are also showing interest. He threw for 1,808 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior when the team used a "Veer" attack, but has over 4,000 career passing yards and experience in the four-wide, shotgun set as well. Scouts like his intelligence and accuracy (only five interceptions as a junior) and he's also athletic enough to make things happen on the ground.
A big man from a small town, Foster's towering frame isn't hard to spot on the field. This spring saw him draw attention from Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State, Michigan State and Louisville. He's reportedly still waiting for his first official scholarship offer, but with a 3.2 GPA and qualifying 18 on the ACT, he should have a bundle in no time. The Volunteers lead for Foster, who recorded 75 tackles and nine sacks as a junior. Ole Miss and Arkansas are also said to be high on his list.
10. Tom Santi Tight End 6-5, 219, 4.52 Nashville Montgomery Bell Academy
Santi's stock has soared since this spring as he made the transition from a relatively unknown prospect to a player with several major scholarship offers, including Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Colorado, Iowa, Georgia Tech and Louisville. As a junior, he caught 46 passes for 650 yards and 12 touchdowns at MBA. His tall, lean frame leaves room to bulk up at the next level while maintaining his outstanding speed. He's displayed the toughness to catch the ball in traffic and good agility to make things happen after the reception. His blocking should improve with added weight and strength, but he already shows good technique and aggressiveness at the point of attack, maintaining his blocks throughout plays.