November 6, 2011
4-star back says Vols' depth chart could help
Four-star tailback Mario Pender, rated the third-best player at his position and top-30 player nationally according to Rivals.com, spent the weekend at the University of Tennessee, where Pender visited with head coach Derek Dooley, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and saw the Vols notch a homecoming win.
Despite being a longtime commitment to Florida State, the Cape Coral, Fla., native and star at Island Coast High School left Rocky Top impressed and with plenty to think about for his future.
"It was a wonderful experience to come up here and feel the atmosphere of Knoxville," he said. "It was my first time coming up here. With the coaches, you know the coaches, they keep it real. They don't sugarcoat anything."
Like teammate and fellow four-star prospect Jordan Diggs, who visited UT this weekend as well, Pender noted the number of young players all over the field for the Vols and said he "loved" what he saw this weekend in Knoxville.
"A lot, a lot. It actually catches my attention a lot," Pender said of the Vols' youth movement. "Absolutely, I love what I've seen at Tennessee over the past two days. So, you know, it leaves me where I was when I came up here."
A mid-term enrollee and U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, Pender recounted how Tennessee was his first offer and that he specifically liked what he saw from the Vols' current freshman tailback, Marlin Lane, who served as Pender's host.
"He showed me the 'Wildcat.' I know I could come in and do the same thing he's done. He showed me a lot (Saturday) night," Pender explained.
Hovering around 6 feet and 185 pounds, Pender said he expects to visit Southern Cal and perhaps Oklahoma in the coming weeks. But, he said, he'll zero in on the process fairly quickly because he intends to be on the campus of his college choice by January.
"The most important factors right now are how I'm going to fit in their schemes and the depth that they have right now," Pender said of the schools he's considering. "Tennessee is doing a good job at playing freshmen, and I believe that would help them in the later run."
Pender said Chaney outlined how the dynamic tailback could fit in the Vols' future plans.
"Coach Chaney, I talked to coach Chaney. I talked to coach Dooley a lot. Me and him went over some things. Basically me and coach Chaney were doing most of the talking," said Pender, who felt he could "absolutely" play right away for the Vols. "Me and coach Chaney, we sat down and he showed me the schemes, how the offensive line works and he showed me how everything worked."
While Pender said it would be nice to remain teammates with Diggs at the collegiate level, he indicated each player is prepared to make the decision that best fits his goals. Pender said he thinks he brings the total package to his position.
"I believe just an exclusive back. I believe I bring it all to the table," he said.
Rivals.com's No. 3 tailback in the nation, the sixth-best player in the talent-laden state of Florida and 28th nationally, Pender said he won't drag out his recruitment beyond this month.
"I'm going to narrow it down to a couple of weeks," he said. "In a couple of weeks, I'll have my mind made up."
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