The lifeblood of great college football programs is recruiting. Coaches scour the country in search of top talent, hoping to leave no stone unturned in an attempt to stockpile players. For the longest time, schools in Tennessee went outside the borders, often exploring the fertile recruiting grounds in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.
Tennessee high school football has grown tremendously in the last five years, going from where the highly regarded players all came out of the Memphis area to where prized recruits are scattered across the state. Local fans are going to get a sight of those talented players this year.
The last time Pioneer fans saw a sure-fire, D-1 football player at Nunley Stadium, Cody Robinson was still wearing a Warren County jersey. Some great players have come and gone on each sideline since, but this year will be the first time it will be a certainty the stars under the Friday night lights will become fixtures on Saturdays in a short time.
Here's a list of players to watch this season.
JaCoby Stevens - The Oakland product very well may be the best player in the state in 2017. Stevens already holds offers from Tennessee, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and Notre Dame, to name a few. He was arguably the best player in last year's Oakland-Blackman matchup, which featured three guys who signed with UT in February.
Gabe Angel - The former Wilson Central star turned Cookeville Cavalier is already a commit to Ole Miss. Angel projects as a tight end at the next level, but he hurt the Pioneers last year as a wildcat QB.
Gentry Bonds - The top ball-hawk of the Riverdale secondary, Bonds has already shown enough talent to get Butch Jones to extend a scholarship offer.
Ikenna Okeke - Just another top defensive back the Pioneers will have to scheme around this fall. Okeke is Smyrna's top weapon, but just one of many top players on the Bulldogs. Okeke has his choice of schools at the next level, including Notre Dame, Stanford, Penn State and, of course, the Vols.
Bryson Cope - Lest I forget the local boys, Cope is a prospect who is drawing interest from several schools across the Southeast. Cope, the 6-foot-3, 310-pound offensive lineman for the Pioneers, has taken several trips to college campuses and could follow in the footsteps of former Warren County standout Michael Thrower at Lindsey Wilson College. If Cope pursues other schools, one to watch may be UAB. The school is reestablishing its program and Cope was looking that way before the initial shutdown.