DETROIT — Tennessee’s shade of orange was nowhere to be found at the Sound Mind Sound Body camp at Wayne State University on Thursday and Friday, but the Vols’ presence could be felt.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones is a popular figure with Michigan high school coaches like Cass Tech’s Thomas Wilcher.
“Butch is a Michigan man,” said Wilcher, a former NCAA track champion in the 55-meter hurdles at the University of Michigan who also won a Big Ten title with the football team. “He believes in football from the heart and soul.”
Jones hails from the small town of Saugatuck, Mich., on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Jones playing his college football at Division II Ferris State in a rural mid-region area of the state, and his first head coaching job was at Central Michigan in 2007.
Wilcher coaches two of the top 2017 prospects in Michigan that Tennessee has offered scholarships, safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell and offensive guard Jordan Reid.
Kelly-Powell, the top-rated safety in Michigan, said he has made four or five trips to visit the Vols already, and he plans on making another.
Reid, the state’s top-rated guard, has narrowed his list to five schools and has Tennessee and Florida among the finalists along with Michigan State, Michigan and Pitt.
Cornerback Ambry Thomas, who attends Detroit Martin Luther King High School and received an offer from Oregon on Friday, said he appreciates Tennessee’s persistence and plans to visit Knoxville.
L’Christian Smith, a top 100 receiver in the 2018 class out of the Dayton, Ohio, area, said his memory of attending a game at Neyland Stadium in junior high will bring him to Tennessee for a visit this summer, too.
Wilcher said Jones makes Tennessee an attractive option for prospects from the Great Lakes region.
“Going from team to team, he has always been successful, and you track that success,” Wilcher said. “When I first met Butch he was at Central Michigan, and I could see he was going to be a great one. I even got his autograph.”
Considering the company Wilcher keeps in the coaching rankings — Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and now Jim Harbaugh at Michigan — the praise for Jones is noteworthy.
Wilcher’s Cass Tech program is a traditional powerhouse, producing some 20 FBS prospects in the last three seasons.
With Jones at the helm, Tennessee has become a popular road trip for Wilcher and his prospects.
“They have that down-home hospitality and they make you feel welcome,” Wilcher said. “I think that attracts the players, along with the (Tennessee) coaching staff, the facilities, and just the warmth you feel.
“You feel at home down there, and we’re really pushing hard, trying to get kids going that way, because I think it’s a great school for kids and a great opportunity.”