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Byrnes player: No influence from Vols hostesses

Byrnes standout defensive end Brandon Willis said Wednesday the female students from the University of Tennessee who attended a September game in Duncan did not influence his decision to commit to the Volunteers.

"What happened wasn't illegal," Willis said in a phone interview after The New York Times reported the NCAA was investigating the Volunteers' football recruiting practices.

"The (female students) came to a football game. They came on their own and left on their own. I didn't have anything to do with it. It has to do with Tennessee. I was committed before (the hostesses) came to the game."

According to The New York Times, a significant part of the NCAA's investigation is focused on Tennessee's use of recruiting hostesses to help lure top recruits.

The hostesses are considered representatives of the university, which would mean they could not recruit players off campus.

Brandon Willis' father, Gary, said the hostesses traveled nearly 200 miles to attend Byrnes' Sept. 25 home game against Gaffney.

Gary Willis said his son and teammate Corey Miller, also a defensive end, committed to Tennessee on Sept. 13.

Still, the hostesses' visits to Duncan could be considered violations of NCAA recruiting rules.

Brandon Willis, who is in Myrtle Beach this week for a postseason all-star game, said none of the Byrnes players was aware that the hostesses were going to be at the Rebels' game against Gaffney.

Gary Willis said the girls met his son at Tennessee's football camp during the summer and said they would attend a game at Byrnes.

Byrnes running back Marcus Lattimore was quoted in The New York Times story saying that the hostesses held up a sign at the game that read, "Come to Tennessee."

Lattimore, one of the top recruiting targets in the nation, has not committed to a college. He said he doesn't plan to announce his college destination until February.

His five finalists are South Carolina, Auburn, Penn State, Oregon and Georgia.

In the article, Lattimore described the hostesses as "real pretty, real nice and just real cool."

The New York Times reported that Lattimore said he thought the hostesses had "a lot" of influence on Miller's and Willis' commitments to Tennessee.

On Wednesday, Lattimore told the Herald-Journal he said the girls "held up signs at the game" but did not say his teammates picked Tennessee because of the hostesses.

Gary Willis said he's not upset with Lattimore about the comments.

"He's a 17-year-old kid," Gary Willis said of Lattimore. "He and my son are the best of friends."

Brandon Willis said Wednesday he still is committed to Tennessee but added he has trips scheduled to Miami and California. He said Vols coach Lane Kiffin has known about the trips for a month.

NCAA officials have visited four prospects and are scheduled to visit two others this week in an investigation covering at least three states. The investigation is unusual in its scope and its timing. It is rare that the NCAA looks at this wide a swath of one university's recruits before the players have signed with a program in February.

According to The New York Times, Tennessee athletics director Mike Hamilton confirmed an investigation was under way but declined to elaborate.

"Typically, we do not comment on inquires that are in progress," he said Tuesday night in New York.

Since Kiffin took over in December 2008 after being fired as the Oakland Raiders' coach, the Volunteers have committed at least six secondary NCAA violations, which are defined as unintentional violations that provide a minimal recruiting or competitive advantage.

Byrnes' Corey Miller could not be reached for comment.