It's been a whirlwind for James Hearns.
With his focus on selecting a junior college to attend this fall, Hearns received word on Wednesday that he had achieved the necessary score on the ACT to play college football at a Division I school this fall.
Hearns said his phone started ringing with coaches from Auburn, Florida, Texas Tech and others calling, hoping he would consider their schools.
One of the first calls was from U of L assistant Ron Dugans, a Tallahassee native, who attended middle school with Hearns' mother and several aunts.
"He called, we set up a visit," and on Saturday morning Hearns signed the necessary paperwork to make him the 17th member of the Cardinals' recruiting class for the Class of 2013. He'll enroll at U of L on July 10.
"It's been a very long process," Hearns said. "There's been a lot of adversity and a lot of ups and downs. But all in all, it worked out best for me.
"I'm in love with Louisville. I love it there, the situation, the players and the coaches. It's just the right thing for me."
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Hearns was once committed to Florida for more than a year, but parted ways with the Gators in January. Before committing to Florida, Hearns had offers from Alabama, Miami, LSU, Ohio State, Notre Dame and South Carolina among others.
Hearns said U of L, Kentucky and South Florida were schools still keeping track of him around signing day. He said he "almost" committed to UK before signing day but the coaches "didn't want to take a chance," on his grades.
Now, the No. 43 linebacker in the nation is headed to Louisville. He finished his visit on Saturday, signed the paperwork and said his mother – who wasn't with him on the visit – "knew it was a good place for me."
"She knows coach (Ron) Dugans is going to take care of me and look after me," he said. "That was not the deciding factor, but that was big just having someone there from where I come from. He's from Tallahassee.
"His family lives right down the street from some of my family, so he knows where I have been and will watch out for me. That was big."
A four-year starter at Lincoln, including as a junior and senior in the middle, Hearns said the coaches told him come in ready to compete.
"I know they have some good linebackers already," he said. "But I'm expecting to just come in and ball. It's a great opportunity for me."
Hearns, who was high school teammates with U of L 2014 commitment Jeff Williams, said all of the Florida guys on the roster "made it really nice."
"There are a lot of Florida guys there, and that's like a bonus for me," he said. "I'm just excited. Coach (Charlie) Strong has the program on the rise, they have a lot of good players and it should be a fun season. "
Scout.com national analyst Jamie Newberg said the late pickup for the Cardinals was a "super late addition."
"You can't find many guys like that in June," Newberg said. "The kid has great size and ability. But it won't mean anything until he takes school seriously and stays on top of that stuff."
Hearns said the process has "been tough on me," and said he's just "very blessed," that he gets an opportunity.
"It's a positive environment and a great situation for me," Hearns said.