For the Nashville/Midstate area, high school football talent is at an all-time high in terms of quality and depth.
The biggest benefactor this season looks likeTennessee.
The Vols' freshman class includes eight players from the Midstate, and a number of them are in position to make a significant impact right away.
"We all had our own reasons for coming to Tennessee," said defensive end Derek Barnett, who played high school ball at Brentwood Academy. "Some of us played against each other in high school, and then when you're being recruited you wind up seeing each other on visits.
"It just worked out where a lot of us wound up here at the same time."
Vic Wharton, a receiver and kick returner from Independence High, was a facilitator. He committed to UT in December 2012 — shortly after Butch Jones was hired and long before Wharton's senior season — and stayed in touch with a number of area players who were being recruited by the Vols.
"He was the first one to commit, and he wanted to make sure he had plenty of company," Barnett said.
UT has recruited the Midstate area steadily through the years but seldom with this much emphasis or impact. And there's more where this class came from. With the population boom and with new high schools sprouting up annually, the Midstate is producing more football prospects than ever before.
Accordingly, the competition for those players is intense. Of The Tennessean's Dandy Dozen list of the area's top senior prospects this season, players have committed to UT, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss. Programs like LSU, Auburn, Ohio State and Penn State are recruiting players from the area.
Jones' emphasis on in-state players in general and Nashville-area talent in particular is a major strategic shift from his predecessor. In 2012, his last recruiting class, then-Vols coach Derek Dooley signed only three in-state players — none of them from the Midstate.
In Dooley's three recruiting classes, he signed only two Nashville players — offensive linemen James Stone and Antonio "Tiny" Richardson. In 2009, Lane Kiffin signed two — Eric Gordon and Zach Rogers.
Jones' recruiting push already is paying dividends. Although he is not expected to unveil his depth chart until next week, a projection shows several of the Midstate freshmen on the two-deep.
For UT, that's good news and bad news. It's good news in that this clearly is a talented group of freshmen. It's bad news because it means there is a shortage of proven veteran players at a number of positions.
Some freshmen like Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone got a head start. They enrolled early and participated in spring practice. It was an early introduction to the college game.
"It's definitely different from high school ball because the big guys are really fast," said Malone, who has bounced back from a slow start in training camp. "... You can't just rely on your ability and your speed. You have to do the little things."
For others, it's been a quick study.
Consider Jashon Robertson. Upon arrival from MBA, he was stationed at defensive tackle. After a few practices in training camp, the coaching staff shifted him to the offensive line, where he has blossomed at guard.
He's something of a natural as an offensive lineman, where his background as a wrestler in high school is a plus. Robertson figures to start at right guard in UT's opener against Utah State.
"The coaches told me that I'd have an opportunity to help the team and contribute," he said. "… We felt like this is the best way I could help the team so I made the switch."
Robertson may be the only opening-game starter among the Nashville-area freshman contingent, but others figure to play extensively. And they should see more action as they gain experience.
Barnett is a gifted pass-rusher and will get plenty of snaps at defensive end. Hurd will split carries with senior Marlin Lane. Malone is in the rotation at wide receiver, and Wharton will see action at slot receiver. Rashaan Gaulden is in the mix in the secondary.
It doesn't stop there. Michael Sawyers is trying to work his way up the depth chart at defensive tackle. Aaron Medley's strong leg could make him a factor in the kicking game.
All told, there's a lot of local flavor in UT's freshman class.