Little more than 400 days since taking over the Tennessee football program and vowing to replenish the program with homegrown talent, Butch Jones on Wednesday morning added another star-studded in-state product to his record-setting first full recruiting haul as the Volunteers' head coach.
Four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers, a 6-foot-2, 307-pounder with a lengthy offer list, essentially capped off the Vols' nationally acclaimed 2014 signing class with his pledge to Tennessee.
Sawyers had given little thought to the Vols; turned off by the previous regime and a long-time commitment to then-Vanderbilt coach James Franklin. But Franklin turned Vanderbilt into a springboard to Penn State last month, and Sawyers then decided to reopen his recruitment.
Down the stretch Sawyers talked most to Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Tennessee --- all places he was able to check out in person.
But a final weekend before the dead period on Rocky Top, in which Sawyer' mother also took a much closer examination of Jones' UT program, ultimately helped the Vols hold off Ole Miss.
"I chose UT because ultimately it was the best overall place for me. I feel like I can do well on and off the field," said Sawyers, who impressed with his burst off the ball, raw power and strength in leading Ensworth to a state championship. "And I want to be able to compete for early playing time. I feel like as a program, UT is ready to be back! First, Coach Jones is a great guy, Coach (Steve) Stripling is a great defensive line coach, Coach Thig (is a cool guy)."
Key to the visit and ultimate commitment were the academic plans that Jones and Tennessee staff outlined to Sawyers and his mother, as well as what Sawyers' peers told him. With 14 newcomers already on campus as mid-term enrollees, Sawyers was able to talk with fellow Midstate standout and '14 class member Josh Malone about the Vols' program.
Malone hosted Sawyers and told the athletic defensive tackle that part of what had most impressed Malone about the Vols' coaches since his arrival on campus in early January was how they had not changed from their recruiting approach.
"When I was up there last weekend with Josh Malone, my tour was amazing. I asked him some stuff because we had worked out together and done some training together with Playmakers Academy, so I knew he'd tell me what UT brought to the table.
"It was a huge factor (with all the Midstate guys). Rashaan (Gaulden), Jalen (Hurd), Josh and just all the guys. The fact that I'm just playing with those guys, not just the guys from in-state, is going to be huge. We're trying to turn it around and show a lot of things. I feel like we're getting Tennessee back. It's about to be the University of Tennessee's state again, and I'm really excited about it. It's going to be a fun time changing Tennessee back to the old traditions."
Sawyers also knows that immediate playing time is a viable option at Tennessee, where six members of the Vols' 2013 defensive line graduated.
And Sawyers again reiterated to VolQuest.com just how significant his experience was last weekend with the school's College of Business Administration.
"The education at the business school is just amazing, and I'm excited to be a Vol," Sawyers said. "I want to go into international business and everything about their business school is just first class. Everything is the highest technology, the greatest resources. And of course, it's great football. UT just gave it all to me. When I sat down with my parents and we laid it all out, Tennessee had it all for me."
The addition of Sawyers is the pinnacle of Jones' in-state work, a class that boasts 10 Volunteer State products and a total of 39 stars per Rivals.com ratings for an 3.9-star average per in-state signee. That group includes the state's only two five-stars in Malone and Jalen Hurd, as well as fellow four-stars Rashaan Gaulden, Todd Kelly Jr., Vic Wharton and Derek Barnett.