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UNC pledges face uncertain future

North Carolina commitments were still voicing their displeasure a day after Butch Davis was fired.

"A big shocker that he got fired," linebacker Christian Russell from Hargrave Military Academy wrote in a Facebook message to ESPN. "I wish it didn't happen."

Russell, who signed with UNC in February, said he still plans on playing for North Carolina, but he's sure other schools will come after him. Because he'll spend a year at Hargrave, the Raeford, N.C., standout can sign with any school in February 2012.

It might not take that long for some other commitments to make their intentions to head elsewhere known.

Tight end Terrance Knox said he already has talked to Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest since Davis' ouster Wednesday amidst an ongoing NCAA investigation. He said he'll also consider Tennessee, Louisville and Virginia.

"It's kind of unexpected but I'm going to roll with the punches right now," Knox said.

Knox said he heard from tight ends coach Allen Mogridge, who tried to give him as much information as possible.

"He was just saying that it caught them off guard and that it's bad timing but they're getting ready to make some big news and big changes right now," Knox said.

That could be key for Knox, who said he's still committed but will keep his options open. Knox said he'd like to see UNC hire a big-name coach and, more importantly, reassure commitments that Chapel Hill is still a wise destination.

"I'd like to see them really reassure that everything is going fine and that it's not going to affect the program as much because when Coach Davis got fired it was a big shock to everybody," Knox said.

The firing could have an ancillary effect on commitments. Not only should they be worried about a coaching change, but perhaps the NCAA investigation isn't going as well as UNC coaches led prospects to believe.

"You have to stay cautious," Knox said. "You don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. Then the hammer comes down and you're not ready for it."

Coaches spent much of Thursday trying to assure prospects that everything will be fine. While that seems like a challenge, especially after athletic director Dick Baddour suddenly stepped down during a Thursday morning news conference, some were buying.

Durham (N.C.) Charles E. Jordan linebacker Phillip Williamson said he finally heard from UNC assistant coach Ken Browning but that no indication was given as to who might replace Davis or if any of the current coaches would be retained.

"He just asked me how I was feeling about it," Williamson texted to ESPN. "Making sure I felt the same way [about my commitment]."

It would be hard to blame any of UNC's 12 commitments if they decide to pursue opportunities elsewhere. The timing of the dismissal, however, will almost certainly limit those prospects' options.

First, they'll soon have to begin their senior seasons, which will draw some attention away from their college decisions. Second, some of the Tar Heels' counterparts don't have a lot of room to take wayward prospects.

Clemson's 2012 class is nearly complete. It has 14 commitments and probably will take only a few more. The Tigers already have had to turn away some highly rated prospects. South Carolina already has 17 commitments.

As for in-state schools, NC State has 11 commitments and Duke has 14.

Any of the above schools would do all they could to take one of UNC's elite prospects, but those with lesser pedigrees could find it hard to secure a comparable offer if they decide to head elsewhere.

No Volunteer

Justin Shanks' decision to commit to Florida State is a blow to Tennessee's football recruiting. The Vols were thought to be in good position with Shanks and are woefully thin at defensive tackle. Senior Malik Jackson returns this year and the Vols are hoping 2011 signee Maurice Couch from Garden City (Kansas) Community College can play a major role in their defensive front this fall.

The Vols responded to the Shanks disappointment by securing a commitment from Damien Jacobs from East Mississippi Community College. That's a glimmer of hope for a program that struck out on several top-flight defensive tackle prospects on National Signing Day in February and hasn't signed a consistent starter since 2005.

Don't expect to hear much complaining coming out of Knoxville, however. The Vols had an incredible haul last week, securing eight commitments to reach 10 total pledges, then picked up Jacobs on Thursday.

The big week got the Vols on the cusp of entering ESPN's top 25. Jacobs could get them in once the rankings are tabulated again. Seven SEC teams are in the top 25.

Also, give the Vols credit for putting their best foot forward with quarterback Gunner Kiel (Columbus, Ind./East). Tennessee was in contention before the nation's second-best quarterback prospect selected Indiana.

While finishing second or worse in recruiting isn't anything to celebrate, the Vols' coaching staff deserves some credit for even being in Kiel's mindset. Tennessee's starting quarterback, Tyler Bray, is just a sophomore and the Vols have two freshman scholarship quarterbacks on their roster.

Tennessee's next chance to secure a top prospect could come from offensive tackle D.J. Humphries from Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek. He is scheduled to announce his decision Aug. 5.

After visiting various schools, Humphries is down to five: Auburn, Clemson, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. The five-star prospect has only one tentative visit left before his decision: a trip to Gainesville just before his announcement.

More hurdles to clear

Even during a high school track meet in Kansas, it's hard for defensive back Jonathan Jones to keep college football out of his mind. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder from Carrollton (Ga.) High School said he hasn't even begun to pare down the 13 suitors that have offered him scholarships.

"Everywhere right now," the three-star prospect said when asked which teams he's considering. "It's still kind of wide open."

Jones said Auburn, Mississippi State and Georgia Tech have drawn some of his strongest interest.

The Yellow Jackets are certainly worth watching. Their academic offerings should play in their favor.

"No. 1, great academics," Jones said when asked what he's looking for in a school. "Where I can get a good education, and No. 2, my relationship with the coaches. That's who I'm going to be with for the next four or five years."

Again, that should give Georgia Tech an advantage when recruiting the nearby prospect. There should be plenty of opportunity to build a strong relationship with Jones.

Jones said he intends to run track, likely the hurdles, in college.

Waiting is the hardest part

Despite some strong interest, Dominick Johnson is still waiting for that first scholarship offer.

"It would be very important," the 6-3, 175-pound athlete from Cary (N.C.) Panther Creek said. "All the work I've put in since my freshman year is going to pay off."

Johnson said he's hearing from a lot of ACC schools, including Clemson, Duke, North Carolina and NC State. Some SEC schools also have shown interest, led by Alabama, Florida and South Carolina.

The first to offer certainly will separate itself from the pack for the rising junior.

"It would show they really cared," Johnson said.

Johnson has played wide receiver, safety and cornerback in high school. He said he'd prefer to play defense, likely safety, in college.

"I guess I'm more of a defensive player," he said. "I like tackling people and picking the ball off. All my life I've been like that."

Johnson said he'd like to play at the same college with his high school quarterback, Vitu Chilongo, who also is waiting for his first offer.

Tenpenny's trail

Add Oklahoma State to the list of official suitors for Altee Tenpenny. The Cowboys were the latest to offer the rising junior running back from North Little Rock (Ark.) High School, according to Tenpenny's coach, Brad Bolding.

Bolding said based off conversations he has had with college coaches, he believes Florida is close to offering Tenpenny a scholarship. Bolding said he expects Texas, Oklahoma and LSU to offer before the season begins.

In addition to Oklahoma State, Tenpenny has scholarship offers from Arkansas, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn.

Dave Hooker covers Southeast and Atlantic Coast recruiting. He has covered recruiting and college football for over a decade. Email him at davehookerespn@gmail.com.