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MARIETTA, Ga. -- The annual carousel of college football coaching changes finally has stopped, and in the wake of the moves a new recruiting dynamic has emerged: assistants changing positions, having packed up their relationships and gone to other programs.
Participants at the Atlanta stop of the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour, which was held Sunday at Marietta (Ga.) High, were among the major players in the changing landscape.
Three-star running back Treyvon Paulk of Alpharetta (Ga.) Milton committed to Tennessee in mid-March, but had Robert Gillespie not been hired from West Virginia there is a high probability that Paulk would have been a Mountaineer.
"Coach G was recruiting me at West Virginia and they offered me up there, so we already had a relationship established," Paulk said. "It was nothing for him to jump in and sell UT to me even more. With him and Coach (Butch) Jones, it just felt right.
"I mean, they are hurting at running back so I can come in and just help the team any way I can."
Paulk is the No. 4-ranked all-purpose back in the country in the early evaluations, and he committed one day after Jalen Hurd -- the No. 15 overall player in the Rivals100 -- also elected to boost the Vols backfield.
Paulk said Hurd joining the class didn't affect his decision and that he was still interested in the school.
"I got connections and a friend already up there," Paulk said. "Ryan Jenkins committed and will be up there playing next year; plus one of my longtime mentors went there."
Through the process, Paulk kept his relationship with Gillespie in focus even as the coach was moving from one school to another.
"He was at West Virginia, and he moved to the SEC," Paulk said. "Why wouldn't you want to be part of the best? Why wouldn't he make that move? I respect that he made the move, and to me he was just a cool guy overall. Besides the football, he is a cool guy to talk to."
Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said he doesn't believe prospects should make their college choices based on which coach is recruiting them unless it is a case similar to Paulk's.
"If your position coach is recruiting you, it makes sense to put a lot of stock into that relationship because you will be spending 90 percent of your time with him," Farrell said. "Kids who are making choices based on a coach who is just their recruiting coordinator I think is just crazy.
"I don't think anyone should be making choices based on the coach because they change so much, but if someone is going to do that it should be because of the position coach -- even more than the head coach."
Farrell added that the confusion caused by the dismissal of the Auburn staff last season was one of the more high-profile examples of why players being tied to assistants can be a problem.
Auburn signed a top-10 recruiting class, but there was a lot of unrest and turmoil before National Signing Day.
Entering this recruiting cycle, many of the former Auburn assistants are at other schools, building bonds with another class of players.
Tommy Thigpen is among the former Tigers coaches going after talented players in new places.
In his first season at Tennessee, Thigpen is targeting Quinten Turner of Lithonia (Ga.) Miller Grove.
Turner said the two are in regular contact and he enjoys the personal touch that Thigpen gives.
"We text every week," Turner said. "It plays a big role for me, so I know that the coach doesn't forget about you.
"He is always telling me that he can't wait to see me rake and he likes seeing us."
The story is not all beneficial for the staff that was assembled at Tennessee. Those who lost their jobs are making efforts to steer players away from the program.
Rashaan Gaulden of Nashville (Tenn.) Independence is a player whom Joseph is targeting and trying to sway into coming to the Midwest.
Gaulden is ranked the No. 27 safety in the class and has been given three stars early in the evaluation process. He said his relationship with Joseph had moved Nebraska as high as No. 2 on his list of offers.
"The No. 1 thing is relationships with coaches," Gaulden said. "That is one of the most important things when it comes to my recruitment. It's going to come down to relationships with coaches and what else (the school) has to offer me."
While new coaches in new places becomes a trend, the movement of experienced assistants can make for dramatic changes in recruiting.
Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth tackle Michael Sawyers said he may have to immediately update his list of schools if third-year coach Andy McCullom leaves for a better opportunity.
"The bond with coaches is everything," he said. "I am going to be there for the next four years."
The worry that stood out with Farrell -- and is understood by Sawyers -- is that McCullom has been a head coach before and may not be at one place long.
The three-star prospect said he knew the risk but it wouldn't change his interest in a program unless McCullom left before he signed.
"Some schools, it could switch things a little bit," Sawyers said. "If Coach McCullom left Georgia Tech, it would be big for me."
Farrell understands the recruiting process as well as anyone in the country, and he said that in the early stages the relationships are vital but moving forward other things develop.
The other factors -- in his estimation -- are and should be more important.
"Kids will start to look into academics and winning and other things like facilities a lot more once they are exposed to more," he said. "In my opinion the relationship with the coach should be a nonfactor because they can be gone at any time, but it is a big thing right now and we are seeing it more and more."
Five invitations for Five-Star Challenge
The most talent-laden stop in the Rivals Camp Series presented by Under Armour produced the most Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge invites of the event circuit.
Lorenzo Carter, Deshaun Watson, Raekwon McMillan, Josh Malone and Mitch Hyatt received invitations for the season-ending event.
Carter is the No. 9 player in the Rivals100. The weakside defensive end from Norcross (Ga.) High impressed during registration and during drills.
Rivals.com regional analyst Woody Wommack took immediate notice.
"He is a physical specimen," Wommack said. "He is just inside the top 10 right now, and I think he is going to move up in the next ranking."
Just behind Carter in the overall rankings list is Watson. The dual-threat quarterback from Gainesville (Ga.) High is No. 11 nationally, and he has committed to Clemson.
He was the first quarterback invited to the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
"He is big and tall," Wommack said. "He is very impressive and the No. 1 quarterback right now. What is important to note is that he is a throw-first player and not a running back who can throw a little, too."
McMillan is a veteran of the Five-Star event after participating as a rising junior last season.
His stock had slid, and he lost his fifth star while moving to No. 16 in the Rivals100 in the latest round of evaluations.
After seeing the Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County inside linebacker at the Rivals Camp Series event, Farrell said he believes McMillan may be on the move back up.
"He was trimmed down from the last time we saw him, and he moved a lot better because of it," Farrell said. "He moves extremely well for a big kid, and he worked very hard out there. I think he was a guy who wanted to get that fifth star back."
Malone, a four-star from Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp, became just the second receiver invited to the elite camp. The No. 72 player in the Rivals100 showed why he was deserving of the invitation during one-on-one play.
"He is great on the deep ball," Farrell said. "He is a long strider who goes and gets the ball at the highest point. He is a real red zone threat and a good route runner."
Suwannee (Ga.) North Gwinnett offensive lineman Hyatt was the second class of 2015 lineman to be added to the event in as many days. At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, the rising junior showed a lot of poise going against a deep pool of talented defensive linemen.
"He was very polished," Farrell said. "His technique -- for a young kid -- was impressive. He just doesn't overextend and is really patient letting the play develop. He won the majority of his reps against a lot of really talented players."
Vanderbilt building to the future
Donovan Sheffield is a high-profile safety in the class of 2015.
He committed to Vanderbilt in June and plans on signing with the program in two years when he is eligible to do so.
"The school is on the rise," Sheffield said. "Even as a kid, I dreamed of playing for Vanderbilt. Even if they were as bad they were before, but now it is a total package."
The willingness of players to commit to, not just consider, Vanderbilt is still a stunner to Farrell.
"It used to be a throwaway offer," Farrell said."Kids would get a Vanderbilt offer and hardly mention it to us in interviews, and now they want that offer."
Farrell said a lot of the credit goes to head coach James Franklin.
"Franklin recruits like he is an assistant coach still," Farrell said. "He really is an exception to the rule for head coaches. He has talented assistants, but he still loves to be active in recruiting and the effort shows."
Sheffield's father played at the school nearly 20 years ago, and following in those footsteps was a major part of the draw for the young player. The combination of grades, location, and on-field success added to the allure.
Now, Sheffield said, he wants to push the program to the next level.
"I want to keep building," he said. "Hopefully we will win a championship."
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