May 24, 2011

State's top OL has long history with Vols

Long before he could remember trekking to his father's seats inside Neyland Stadium, first in the south end zone upper deck in section PP and then a few years ago moving directly below beneath the overhang in section P, Andrew Jelks felt the roar inside the hallowed home of Tennessee football.

After all, his family has owned season tickets to the Vols' football games since 1982 and though Jelks was a December baby, his mother hardly let that interfere with the family's autumn traditions.

"Dad had season tickets to UT since 1982. I was going to games when my mom was pregnant with me. I was born in December, and I was going to games that season just before I was born," said the personable but unassuming Jelks, a Henry County standout who ranks among the state of Tennessee's top prospects in 2012. "My earliest memory was when (the Vols) played in the (1998) SEC Championship and then won the national championship. Me and my little brother and down went down and watched that."

Now the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Jelks, whose stock is soaring on the heels of his standout performance in January at the U.S. Army All-American bowl combine, is positioning himself to experience some of those childhood memories firsthand. The agile, broad-shouldered offensive tackle is piling up offers like he's been known to pile up points on the basketball court. He owns 15 offers, from home-state SEC residents Tennessee and Vanderbilt to bordering powerhouse Alabama and, of course, his first offer, David Cutcliffe's Duke Blue Devils.

"It's just amazing now that I have this Tennessee scholarship offer now. I mean, I've grown up loving them and there's nothing but positive things I can say about it. Now that I have an opportunity to go there, it took me back a whole lot," said Jelks, who as a youth also starred in baseball and basketball. "I've just grown up watching SEC football, period. Always wanting to play there. Go down to the Swamp and play there. Bryant-Denny Stadium and play there. Neyland. Running through the 'T.' Now that I have an opportunity to fulfill some of those dreams, it's all I can ask for.

"I've just got to separate (his emotions) to some extent. I have to take my recruiting real business-like and know that I've got to do what's best for me."

The middle son in this football family of three, Jelks can lean on some of the experiences of his older brother, William, to aid in the recruiting process. The elder Jelks is a redshirt freshman center at Southeast Missouri while his younger brother is preparing to give opponents twice as many Jelks to deal with in the upcoming season of Henry County football.

That's not really anything new, however, since family-style ballgames have been the norm around Paris.

"We always did," Jelks said of competing as a family and in the neighborhood. "We have a lot of friends that live around us, get together and brothers on brothers. They don't like playing us, because we've got some big boys on the block."

Since earning his first start as a freshman during Henry County's deep playoff run in 2008, Jelks has worked toward his college dream. He admits when people first told him he could be a college prospect that his response was to humbly dismiss the notion. But now, his family has enough mail to supply Dunder Mifflin with paper.

"Most of the mail gets sent here (to the school's fieldhouse). Come down here, there's usually a stack of about seven to 10 letters," Jelks explained. "I take them home and my parents have my mail sorted out. There's usually five or six more letters. I actually already have about three or four boxes of just letters that I have right now that my mom is saving."

While Jelks continues to let the recruiting process unfold, he's just recently completed his final spring camp at Henry County and focused on his primary objective before the 2011 season.

"Just getting my weight up," he said. "I'm at 265, and I want to be 275-280 by fall. That's my main goal right now."

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