Two Vols Commits, Key Target Up for Prestigious High School Butkus Award as Nation's Best LB

Matthew Ray

Tennessee's linebacking corp is shaping up to be one of the best in the country, and the High School Butkus Award Watchlist is another indicator of that. The Butkus Award is awarded to the best high school linebacker each season.

The watchlist, revealed yesterday, featured Two Tennessee commitments in Aaron Willis and Terrence Lewis.

Lewis is widely considered the most versatile linebacker in the country, and he has continued to gain steam as an elite prospect. Lewis committed to the Vols in late April, in large part because of Brian Niedermeyer. He told VR2 on SI at the time, "Mine and his relationship has grown a lot. I feel like I could talk to him about anything. Now that he is at my position, it pushes Tennessee up my list because we have a great relationship. We talk all the time. That is my guy."

Lewis' SI All-American evaluation reads:

Polish: The volume element of Lewis’ game speaks to his closing speed and finishing power as a tackler. He forms up ball carriers with good leverage and short-area explosion. The rising senior can cover a lot of ground against the pass relative to his assignment. He could fall victim to the wash at times because he is so quick to the point, so patience and spacial leverage improvements can help him work towards his positional ceiling.

Bottom Line: Lewis is the linebacker prototype for the current day and age of college football. He can impact all three downs against a spread offense in moving towards the line of scrimmage or away from it with head-turning flashes along the way. Known for speed and pop at the point of contact, he can hold up in the box or in space despite a size disadvantage. As Lewis fills out and improves his ability to combat blockers he can ascend towards the command of a big-time college football defense.

When people think of Willis, they view his ability as a downhill striker as what sets him apart. He is a complete linebacker who plays in one of the premier programs in the country.

Willis committed to the Vols in early May, and he told VR2 on SI at the time, " I talk to all of the defensive coaches. Pruitt is a great person, and I talk to him. I know it is going to be in the best conference in the SEC, and it is definitely on the rise. I know I can go there and learn behind All-SEC Freshman Henry To'o To'o. I can learn behind him."

To'o To'o was named to the college watch list on Monday.

Willis' SI All-American evaluation reads:

Polish: Accelerated play diagnostics and a quick trigger combines for flash plays from multiple positions. Times blitzes incredibly well and can make plays through contact with natural leverage and explosive ability. Tools to hold own in coverage with enough quickness to combat a running back or tight end. Room to improve extension and hand usage against blockers.

Bottom Line: Willis has head-turning striking ability as an ultra-aggressive second level prospect. The compact frame could limit the amount of time he spends as a true edge prospect at the next level but the short-area power and comfort playing in space could eventually help him develop into three-down territory in college. At a minimum, he has special teams ace traits to his name.

Top Tennessee Target Smael Mondon was a watchlist candidate as well. Mondon has been in heavy contact with Tennessee, as they factor into his looming college decision.

In an interview in May with VR2 on SI, Mondon said on his growing relationship with Brian Niedermeyer, "we have a good relationship, and it has been growing. He has been telling me about the new movement at Tennessee, and how it is going to be something different there."

Mondon said on the appeal to join in that process with the Vols, "it is just the chance to completely turn something around. When you are the first to do something or first to do something in a while, people remember. So, it is really just the chance to leave a long-lasting legacy there."

Mondon's SI All-American evaluation reads:

Polish: Attacks inside-out on ball carrier. Allows play to develop before selling out to make the play. Elite downhill ability as blitzer or run stopper. Responsible in pass coverage with a strong ability to break on the ball from the second level. Can redirect and get downhill immediately.

Bottom Line: Mondon is a do-it-all linebacker prospect ready to make plays all over the field at the collegiate level right now. He physically profiles as a three-down player with disruptive polish in space, ideal for today’s college game. It would be surprising to see Mondon spend much time on the sidelines over the next decade or so.