October 9, 2011

Four-star WR says Vols vying for top-3 status

Before too long, explosive playmaker Alton Howard expects to narrow his finalists to no more than three schools.

When the dynamic Orlando product does, he knows the school he visited officially this weekend will make the cut. Taking in Tennessee's sold-out, 20-12 loss to Georgia Saturday night, the four-star wideout Howard left Rocky Top impressed with his experience.

"It was very nice. It lifts you up. It gives you goose-bumps to get in that stadium. As far as the facilities, it's a great experience. It's going to be a great fit for the incoming freshmen, if I do decide to come here," said the 5-foot-8, 180-pounder from Edgewater High School. "I'd just they've got it made with the Thornton Center, and all the things they've got provided to them. They've got a great opportunity to go far in life. …

"Right now I'm trying to evaluate some of my offers and my top five and (eventually), I'm going to have a top three. Tennessee (will be). Most likely (Central Florida). I know Tennessee is going to be in there for a fact, and I know UCF is going to be in there for a fact. It's close to home and if I get second thoughts about other colleges, I have nothing to lose there."

Adding that Alabama, where Howard's cousin, Hasean Clinton-Dix, plays safety, has also entered the mix alongside West Virginia, Cincinnati, South Carolina and others, Howard said he got to spend quality time on his first official visit meeting with Vols head coach Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett.

"It was very nice. I saw some of the great facilities. I got to bond with the teammates. Me and coach (Derek) Dooley sat down, coach (Jim) Chaney. We shared a few words. How could I fit in? We just had a great vibe and we got to know each other much better," Howard said. "I was looking at the facilities for one; the team chemistry in general and just how it feels to play in the stadium. And just how Tennessee makes you feel overall. It was a great feeling."

Howard spoke at length with the coaches about the various roles he could fit in the Vols' offense, and he came away impressed at the variety of ways he could get onto the field.

"They were just saying I'm that guy they need, explosiveness and quick on the field. I can do things and space," Howard said. "That's why they brought me up here and showed me around and sat me down and talked to me a lot and he told me he's going to be down to probably visit me in December. So they're just looking forward to me and they're very interested in me. And me and coach Chaney just sat down and talked personnel and so they loved me.

"They said I could play Z, X, move from slot to wide, said they could motion me at running back, I could do some special teams. A little bit of everything. Even wildcat."

Plus, Howard said, he knows Tennessee isn't afraid to play freshmen. The Vols are among the nation's leaders in most freshmen played, and the multi-purpose threat Howard has taken note.

"The football program, the SEC. I knew they had great facilities. And I knew they had some down-and-out fans, true to you and committed. I just knew Tennessee ain't afraid to play freshmen. I just wanted to come up here and see for myself. See things overall and get a feel of it," Howard said. "It catches my attention a lot. That just shows that if you come in, get the job done and learn the system, you're playing time is 80 percent. If you just show effort in the classroom and on the field and respect the coaches, you'll fit in well."

Howard said he continues to eye a November announcement but that he will continue to fully explore his options and take official visits, the next of which will take him to Cincinnati next weekend.

But he leaves Knoxville with a good vibe about the Tennessee program.

"I just look at the history of the wide receivers coach, he coached Wes Walker, Randy Moss. Coach (Charlie) Baggett, he's got a lot of history behind his coaching, coach Dooley has a lot of history and just how the players and the fans are committed," he said. "Whether you lose or win a game, they're still going to be there wanting autographs and cheering you on. It's just a great feeling."

Rivals.com rates Howard a four-star prospect and No. 43 wide receiver in the nation.

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