A.J. Johnson says he’s no longer committed to Tennessee. Markeith Ambles says he may follow its coaches to Southern Cal. And JaWuan James, well, he’s in limbo.
Those are three of the Atlanta area-prospects that bought Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin’s sales pitch and committed to the Vols over the past few months. But with Tuesday night’s stunning news that Kiffin is now leaving Rocky Top to return to Southern Cal, none of them are sure what they’re going to do.
“I just started getting texts from random people so I called Coach Brown [Tennessee receivers coach Kippy Brown to find out what was going on,” Ambles said. “I asked him if it was true. He said yes but everybody was about to go into a meeting and they’d call me. I don’t even know what to think. I just want to talk to Coach Kiffin.”
Reports citing anonymous sources began surfacing between 8 and 9 p.m. that the 34-year-old coach had accepted the job recently abandoned by Pete Carroll. The news has since been confirmed by both UT and USC and Kiffin held a brief impromptu press conference Tuesday night at the Vols’ football complex.
Reportedly assistant head coach/recruiting coordinator/D-line coach Ed Orgeron and Kiffin’s defensive coordinator/daddy Monte Kiffin will be joining him in Los Angeles.
Just this past season, right before and immediately after the Vols defeated Georgia 45-19 in Knoxville, Kiffin declared the state of Georgia a recruiting war zone for Tennessee. Since then the Vols landed six commitments from the state, including James, a four-star offensive lineman from North Gwinnett High who just enrolled at UT on Monday.
According to several published reports, there may be a reprieve for James and the nine other early enrollees. Though I have not verified this independently, it’s being reported that they may be granted a waiver by the NCAA as long as they did not attend any classes while in Knoxville. Spring semester classes were slated to begin on Wednesday. James did not returned phone messages or texts.
Also committed to UT for this year’s class are Southwest DeKalb cornerback Marques Dixon, Westlake linebacker Michael Taylor and LaGrange-Troup County defensive end J.C. Copeland.
A story on the Orlando Sentinel website, citing Taylor’s teammate Tony Jacob, reported that Taylor de-committed to Tennessee and immediately committed to Florida, where he visited this past weekend. But Taylor, responding only with a short text late Tuesday night, said “false statement.” There also was a tagline on the message that read “>change of heart<”.
Dixon, who just committed to Tennessee last week, says he’s sticking with the Vols.
“Yes, I am still going to Tennessee,” Dixon told the AJC’s Michael Carvell. “I am not going to make any decisions until I talk with Tennessee’s coaches and my high school coaches.”
But Dixon said he plans to take official visits to Southern Miss on Friday, Tennessee on Jan. 22 and Miami on Jan. 29.
It sounds like Copeland is leaning toward staying with the Vols as well.
“I didn’t commit to Tennessee because of the coach, I committed because of the school,” said Copeland, a longtime commitment who is scheduled to take an official visit this weekend. “But I probably was going to take a few visits anyway.”
Johnson, a star linebacker at Gainesville who is committed for the Vols’ class of 2011, was particularly taken aback. He heard about it when in the locker room after playing a basketball game Tuesday night.
“I kept hearing little and rumors and stuff about Coach Orgeron maybe going to Southern Cal. But I talked to him like a week or two ago and he said there wasn’t anything to it,” Johnson said. “So when I heard it tonight, I was like, ‘for real?’ I said, ‘oh well, I guess I’m de-committing then.’ I guess I’m open.”
Ambles, an AJC Super 11 wide receiver from Henry County, said he may decide to follow Kiffin to Southern Cal.
“Yeah, that’s definitely a possibility,” he said. “They were recruiting me. I don’t know. I’ve got to go talk to my dad.”
Dixon said he’d consider it but doesn’t know if it’d be a possibility. The Trojans have never contacted him.
“Believe it or not, Southern Cal was my dream school when I started high school,” Dixon said. “But it’s too far away from my family. Then again, I do have some relatives out there … I guess if Southern Cal offered me a visit, I’d take it.”
Brandon Willis of Duncan, S.C., famously re-committed to Tennessee on national TV this past Saturday and was scheduled to drive up to Knoxville on Tuesday night to begin classes. He didn’t make the trip and expressed anger to SI.com’s Andy Staples.
“They had the nerve to call me and ask me to come to Southern Cal,” Willis said.