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Matthew Butler remains a wanted man, but the 3-star defensive end from Garner (N.C.) Magnet School has trimmed his Top 6 — Tennessee, South Carolina, Penn State, Texas A&M, Duke and N.C. State — down to three.
Only, Butler isn’t revealing his finalists before his Dec. 21 announcement.
The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defensive end has taken a measured and meticulous approach to his recruitment, so it’s no surprise that he continues to gather and assess information all the way up to his decision.
The beats on Butler’s recruitment:
* He finished his senior season with a whopping 26 sacks.
* He’s visited all six schools at least once this fall.
* He’s taken official visits to Penn State, Duke and Texas A&M.
* He hosted coaches from all six finalists last weekend, including Tennessee’s Tommy Thigpen and Steve Stripling. On the first week of the contract period, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop went and watched Butler’s playoff game.
* Tennessee coach Butch Jones did not make an in-home visit with Butler before the contact period ended.
So, where do things stand?
It could be shaping up to be an N.C. State vs. Tennessee showdown. Duke and Penn State are darkhorse candidates, too.
The Vols have prioritized Butler for months, but as he explained at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas on Monday, he wouldn’t define his relationship with Tennessee as a recruitment.
“What caught my attention with Tennessee is coach Thigpen. He didn’t recruit me. He talked to me. We became close, almost. He would give me advice, on and off the field,” Butler told SEC Country.
“Once I got on campus, it was pretty cool, but it was like a fun day. But that’s not what I was looking for, so I started asking questions. At some places, I’m not going to say the schools names, because I’m not considering them anymore, they’re not on that six list, they would just evade the questions or say, ‘That’s a question for somebody else.’ Almost borderline telling me to have fun. That’s not what I’m on a visit to do. I was on a visit to learn. It wasn’t like that at Tennessee. It wasn’t like that at any of the schools I’m considering.”
Tennessee added another defensive line commit Monday, as 3-star Miami Southridge end Deandre Johnson flipped from Mississippi State.
But that is unlikely to affect Butler’s checklist for Tennessee.
The cerebral end, ranked No. 22 at his position nationally, knows he’s a priority for the Vols, and he’s much more concerned with fit, scheme, team personality (a biggie for Butler) and academics.
The Vols have remained honest with Butler during the entire process, and that’s a major reason they’re considered among the favorites to land the North Carolina native.
“Coach (Butch) Jones, he doesn’t necessarily recruit me either, he just talks to me about what he’s doing, because if I don’t like what he’s doing, then I won’t like. If I like what he’s doing, then I like it. That’s what I appreciated about Tennessee,” Butler told SEC Country.
“I guess, three schools, to be specific: Duke, Penn State and Tennessee. They tell me what they’re doing. If I like it, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t. I mean, I don’t want you to be like, ‘You’ll love it.’ Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Just tell me what you’re doing. That’s what I appreciated about those three schools.”
Could Duke, PSU and Tennessee be his three finalists? Possibly, but N.C. State is certainly still in the mix.
On Monday, 3-star linebacker Mo Burnam reopened his recruitment following an official visit to Indiana.
Thank you Volunteer family ✊? pic.twitter.com/pi3kD00GLu
— RUN D.M.B (@dburnam1) December 12, 2016
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound inside linebacker committed to the Vols in March, becoming Tennessee’s then third-inaugural 2017 pledge after Hunter Johnson, Tee Higgins and Jordon Riley all decommitted at one time or another.
Georgia defensive end Marquez Bembry now holds distinction of the first 2017 commit for the Vols.
As for Burnam, the move had been anticipated for months. Tennessee continued to recruit other linebackers, adding 4-star Will Ignont and 3-star Shanon Reid in the last four weeks.
The Vols were never going to sign five ‘backers, so something had to give.
Meanwhile, another decommitment could be coming down the pike, too.
South Carolina defensive end Tre Lawson, a North Augusta product, told Phil Kornblut of Sportstalksc.com that he no longer considers himself a Tennessee commit.
“Technically I am (still committed) but I won’t be in a week or two,” “Everyone in my circle is OK with it. I’ll publicize it later. Nothing bad happen, they’ve just got a lot of stuff going on around the program and I don’t feel the same about the program anymore.”
However, Lawson told me Tuesday that he is still committed to Tennessee.
We’ll see for how much longer.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound end had a nice senior season, recording 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. He joined Tennessee class in June during the flurry of commits on ‘Orange Carpet Day.’
The recruiting industry is rather spilt on Lawson, as some believe he is highly underrated and a potential X-factor, while others question his fit and position in college.