Even though Todd Kelly Jr. is just a junior, the next two weeks could have a significant impact on his recruitment as he inspects two of his top schools.
Kelly Jr. will visit Alabama this weekend for the Western Kentucky game. Next week, the standout safety from Knoxville (Tenn.) Webb will stay home to see Tennessee host Florida.
Alabama and Tennessee both made positive impressions last week with impressive victories. The same is expected on Saturday for 'Bama, who should handle the Hilltoppers with ease. Next week, Tennessee gets a chance for a signature SEC win. That could point to brighter days ahead for the Vols, who are coming off two losing seasons. A loss would surely put more questions in prospects' minds.
Kelly Jr. will be a key prospect for both schools. Both have reason to be optimistic. Kelly Jr.'s father, Todd Kelly, was a standout defensive lineman for the Vols in the early 1990s. Yet there are also ties to Alabama. Kelly Jr.'s sister is a sophomore cheerleader. The family has repeatedly said loyalty won't play a significant role in Kelly's recruitment.
That businesslike approach makes things a little tougher for both schools. How hard should Alabama recruit a prospect with strong ties to a rival school? How much should Tennessee bank on a relationship that might not play a significant factor in the end?
Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he won't let ties to another school affect the way he recruits a player, especially in the early stages.
“Basically we're pretty realistic about those situations,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said this week. “We tell a guy 'Look, it's not our decision to make choices for you based on circumstances. It's our decision as to whether or not we want to give you an opportunity to come to Alabama. We're going to recruit you and we're going to recruit you like we do everybody.
'We'd just like for you to be honest with us and let us know if you're not interested in our school because of whatever circumstances may exist relative to the history you have with somebody else or any other reason or circumstance.'”
Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley has seen allegiances go both ways. Sometimes loyalty wins out. Sometimes it doesn't. Dooley said those allegiances are more common in prospects from the Southeast.
“I think you still have a nice blend of kids that want to go to Tennessee no matter what and kids that want to go to Georgia or Alabama no matter what,” Dooley said. “But then there's a large portion of them that do take it as a more businesslike approach.”
As for prospects' decisions, Dooley said most are based on which school can provide the best opportunity “as a player, as a person and as a student.” Just having a legacy, such as a father playing at a prospective school, doesn't close the deal.
“Of course, it depends on where the family lives now,” Dooley said. “How was the dad's experience? There are so many factors that go into it. I can tell you this: I'd rather recruit a guy whose dad played at Tennessee than somewhere else.”
Kelly's family does indeed still reside in Knoxville. By all indications, the elder Kelly had a positive experience at Tennessee. Yet those factors alone won't secure a commitment.
Dooley knows what it's like to go against the grain. He played at Virginia when his father was the head coach at Georgia. That situation, however, was a bit different.
“Well, I didn't go to Georgia because nobody wanted me,” Dooley said. “It wasn't like they were begging me to come.”
With well over a dozen scholarship offers, that's certainly not the case with Kelly.