Within 24 hours of Bailey sending out that text message, MacLain received scholarship offers from Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, South Carolina, and West Virginia, while schools like Alabama, Florida, and Penn State requested film.
"That really made Eric feel better [about de-committing]," Bailey said. "He thought ‘Look, I have other options, so if this doesn't work out with Tennessee, there are plenty of options out there for me.'"
During the summer before his sophomore season, MacLain, who was a 6-foot-4, 270-pound 14-year old (and has since trimmed down to 6-5, 250), camped at Tennessee.
"[Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer] just said ‘This kid is just going to get better. We don't know what position he'll be at this point – tight end, defensive lineman, offensive lineman – but he's going to be a football player,'" Bailey said.
A few months later, MacLain verbally committed to Tennessee.
"I was just passionate about Tennessee," MacLain said. "We lived there so long. Phillip Fulmer was kind of like a father. My dad actually knew him personally – he took care of him in the hospital at UT. It was just the perfect fit."
MacLain remained a Tennessee commitment through two coaching changes.
"He was one of those ones where he was committed and he really didn't want to talk to anybody else," Bailey said. "If you're committed to a team, I'm going to shut the recruitment down.
"A couple of schools, when Lane Kiffin took the [Tennessee] job, threw their hat into the ring, like Clemson because Dan Brooks, who was at Tennessee, was now at Clemson. But the rest of them were like ‘We're not going to mess with him, he's going to Tennessee.'"
A month after Derek Dooley replaced Kiffin as Tennessee's head coach, MacLain decided to de-commit.
"After this last hiring, there were some things that the family didn't like how it was handled," Bailey said. "There was a lot of miscommunication. I guess I'm part of that miscommunication. But Tennessee could have done some things to straighten that out. Sometimes they put [high school] coaches in the position to be interpreters. Only thing I was doing was relaying what I thought the message was. I don't know if I interpreted it the wrong way – maybe I did, I don't think I did, but that's Tennessee's spin on it now.
"The bottom line is: Eric got a bad feeling about what was going on at Tennessee for a while. I'm not saying that damage is irreparable – I think that damage can be fixed."
MacLain hopes the repairing process begins this weekend when he visits Tennessee. One thing he doesn't expect to occur this weekend is to re-commit to the Volunteers.
"We're not going to commit until Signing Day," MacLain said.
MacLain's new plan of action is to visit as many schools as possible during the spring and summer, and then take all five of his official visits.
"[I want to] just get that overall feel for as many colleges as possible to get that perfect scenario," MacLain said.
MacLain has already visited Duke and NC State this spring. Both trips took place last weekend.
Besides this weekend's trip to Tennessee, MacLain is scheduled to visit Virginia Tech in June. He said he could also visit UNC this coming Tuesday if his basketball schedule allows it. He hopes to also visit Alabama, Florida, and Penn State at some point.
During each visit, MacLain will focus on three main items.
"No. 1 is making sure it feels like a family," MacLain said. "And then No. 2, which is close to No. 1, is definitely academics. And then the style of the offense – how the tight end fits [into the offense]."
MacLain definitely prefers tight end, but said he isn't opposed to playing defensive end in college.
"He can play three positions in college," Bailey said. "He could play tight end, he could play offensive line, [and] he could play defensive line. He's going to be successful at one of those three. If he doesn't make it as a tight end, it's not like ‘Oh crap, we just wasted a scholarship.' They can just move him to D-line or move him to O-line and he'd be an All-American."
Bailey believes MacLain's greatest potential is on the offensive line.
"I personally think he can play in the NFL as an offensive lineman," Bailey said. "I don't know if he can play on Sundays as a tight end, yet, but he might be able to. I just think his greatest potential for the NFL is as an offensive lineman."
After starting a few games on the offensive line as a freshman, MacLain has started at tight end in Britt's spread, run-oriented offense the past two seasons.
"His biggest part for us is he's a great blocker," Bailey said. "He does a tremendous job of blocking at the line of scrimmage. He engulfs most high school defensive ends and linebackers. He's learned to be more physical and really finish blocks and he's gotten better blocking in space…Eric has really gotten better at that where he doesn't miss those second level guys like he did as a freshman and even as a sophomore some."
MacLain, though, isn't just a blocking tight end.
"He has great hands," Bailey said. "We don't throw the ball to him enough. I hate it when I read something that he's a ‘blocking tight end.' Well, he's a blocking tight end because that's what we do, it's not because he doesn't catch the ball well. If he played for Tommy Knotts, [MacLain] would catch 70 balls probably. But he plays for me and catches ten. But it doesn't mean he's not a great receiver. He has the best hands on the football team."
Last season, MacLain caught eight passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Bailey estimates that MacLain didn't drop a pass all season long.
MacLain was the only player that started both ways for Britt last season. On defense, he started as a three-technique (rush tackle), where he registered 43 tackles, including 11 for a loss and four sacks, and two forced fumbles. For the 4A state championship game, though, he was moved to end because the normal starter was ill.
"He did fine in the state championship game playing defensive end," Bailey said. "We didn't play great on defense as a team, but he has a lot of highlights on his highlight film from that game."
For his senior season, MacLain will exclusively start at defensive end.
Last season, MacLain would rest on the sidelines when Britt's offense would go to a no-tight end set. That strategy will change this coming season.
"We'll probably rest Eric on defense a little bit more [this coming season], because we need him a little bit more offensively," Bailey said. "We don't have as many wide receivers as we did. When we go [to a no tight end formation], I'll probably just move him out to wide receiver."