This past football season was forgettable, and Saturday's basketball loss to Austin Peay was embarrassing, but the Vols did receive some positive news this afternoon. Anderson (S.C.) tight end Justin Meredith gave his verbal pledge to coach Derek Dooley at UT, switching his commitment from North Carolina.
The 6-foot-5, 223-pound tight end's commitment is the result of months of continuous recruiting by Dooley and chief recruiter Terry Joseph, who stuck with Meredith through his early leaning toward Clemson, brief North Carolina courtship and his commitment to the Tar Heels more than six months ago. Despite the commitment, UT kept calling -- through Butch Davis' firing, Everett Withers' interim head coaching duties and the hiring a couple days ago of Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.
The Vols began to gain momentum with the South Carolina prospect toward the middle of the season, and Meredith and his family took two separate trips to Knoxville to watch the Vols play. Though his recruitment went quiet recently, he informed the coaches Friday afternoon that he'd spend the next four or five years in orange. He is an early enrollee who will be a Vol very soon.
Meredith possesses a big, athletic frame with the ability to pack 240-250 pounds and still be a weapon in the passing game. The Vols identified and targeted him early in the process, focusing mainly on him and Kurt Freitag as the two primary tight end targets. Buford, Ga.'s Freitag committed to Alabama over Georgia last week. Meredith, as noted, was committed to UNC, but the continuous tumult of that situation in Chapel Hill along with the looming NCAA cloud caused him to look around. It became evident the only other school on which he was focusing was UT. Though he waited to see who the Heels got as their next coach, he obviously wasn't enamored enough with Fedora to stick. Meredith committed to the Vols less than 24 hours after an in-home visit from Dooley.
He ultimately chose UT over firm offers from North Carolina, Clemson, Notre Dame, LSU, Virginia Tech, Auburn, and Duke, among many others.
Meredith -- who, by the way, is from TL Hanna High School, the school made famous by the movie and person affectionately known as "Radio" -- is universally rated as a three-star by all services except ESPN, which has him as a four-star TE. He was recently docked a star by Rivals.com, who originally had his as a four-star. ESPN has him as the sixth-ranked TE in the class and has him with a 4.58 40-yard dash. The Worldwide Leader is extremely high on Meredith's potential. He will play in the Under Armour All American game as well. Here is a great feature ESPN's Jamie Newberg did on Meredith back in October.
This makes the 21st public commitment from a Tennessee team pretty much looking to upgrade in all categories. There's still much fluidity that could occur within this year's class before Feb. 1, especially with all the buzz around the possibility of coaches leaving. Three prospects UT desperately need to hang onto that are taking other visits are DT Damien Jacobs, MLB Dalton Santos and SS LaDarrell McNeil. There are also some possibilities of gray shirts and asking other committed prospects to look elsewhere, as was the case with former RB commitment Imani Cross, who flirted with other schools throughout the process and eventually was asked to look elsewhere. He's now considering Vanderbilt, Virginia and East Carolina.
Meredith helps solidify what is shaping up to be a pretty strong stable of tight ends for the Vols next year. Mychal Rivera -- who desperately needs to work on blocking -- will be a senior, and UT also will have the sophomore duo of Brendan Downs and Cameron Clear, both of which played considerable snaps this past season. Meredith will join that group and give the Vols four potentially good tight ends. He is the second new target for Tyler Bray committed in the past four days. Shifty wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard picked the Vols over Florida and Central Florida on Wednesday. The Vols now move to 12th in the overall Rivals ranking, 14th in Scout and 16th in ESPN.
Welcome to Big Orange Country, Justin.