LA MIRADA, Calif. - Nine schools have now offered Isaac Luatua, a 6-foot-2, 299-pound lineman, but the one standing out more than the others is Tennessee - and there are many reasons why the Volunteers are on top.
Luatua, who has UCLA, Arkansas and Boston College also high on his list, said his relationship with Tennessee offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is great, he might want to leave southern California for college and playing in the SEC has always been something he's considered.
Combine those factors and it looks like Tennessee is in great shape.
"The offensive line coach at Tennessee has been on him for over a month now and he's made Isaac his focus," La Mirada coach Mike Moschetti said.
"They're recruiting him as a center at Tennessee and they've done a heck of a job. They've been on him for well over a month, e-mails, calling me, I'll get Isaac and tell him to call coach Hiestand. Tennessee pretty much sells itself."
Before joining coach Derek Dooley's staff in Knoxville, Hiestand coached the Chicago Bears' offensive line and has compared Luatua to Bears center Olin Kreutz. That's not only a big compliment but proof that Tennessee has high interest in landing Luatua in its 2011 class.
"They're recruiting me really hard and I have a good relationship with the o-line coach," Luatua said. "I really like them. They're on top right now. The tradition of the program, it's Tennessee. I want to get to know the players if I'm going to be with them for the next four or five years."
A decision timetable has not been set for Luatua, whose newest offer is from Syracuse, but he said he'd like to have it done before his senior season. Before he makes a commitment to any school, though, Luatua said he would like to visit Tennessee and maybe some other places, too.
UCLA cannot be counted out since Luatua likes the Bruins' coaching staff and the lure of playing close to home is also weighing on his decision. Luatua said his mother would be happy if he picked UCLA but that she'd support him if he decided on Tennessee or someplace further from home.
"Just growing up here in California, everybody likes UCLA or USC and I didn't like USC, I just liked UCLA better," Luatua said.
"She'll say she wants me to stay home but if I choose to go a place like Tennessee or Arkansas she'd let me go. It depends on where I'm happiest."
Colorado State, New Mexico, Washington State and Wyoming have also offered Luatua, who's hearing from North Carolina, Duke, NC State, Cal, Washington and others. Oklahoma recently inquired about him as well. It seems new programs are getting involved on a regular basis.
The Tar Heels like him as a defensive lineman, other programs prefer him on the offensive line, some like him at center and others think he'll be a standout guard. Moschetti said he believes Luatua can excel anywhere on the field.
"He can dominate defensively and he can dominate offensively," Moschetti said. "The film I've seen for a two-way player, he's as good as anybody around here on the West Coast."