Speculation over

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Tennessee fans have been itching to get Texas linebacker prospect Dalton Santos to arrive on Rocky Top since he committed back in August.

Originally, Santos was slotted to enroll classes in January in time for spring practice, but things went south when the NCAA wouldn't accept one of his high school credits.

"I really wanted to do the early enrollment, but I couldn't get it done through the NCAA and I had to take another semester of school," Santos told InsideTennessee. "I wanted to get this recruiting thing behind me. It is just never ending. Every time you turn they are in your text messages all the time. I wanted to get up there and get the next stage of my life going, but it didn't work out."

"Now I just have to enjoy the rest of my time with my family, my grandparents and the people who I am close with in the community. Then when all that is over and done I can go to Tennessee and make something of myself."

Santos, who is now at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, is all set to play his last game as a high school athlete in St. Petersburg, where InsideTennessee will be present, and he couldn't be more excited about the opportunity.

"Words can't even describe how excited I am to play in this game," he said. "I am just so grateful that I have a chance to play in this game.

"When you are putting in all those hours you never even think about this kind of stuff and sometime you think ‘why am I doing this.' Then when you finally sit down and you get that letter you realize that everything that you have done has paid off. Now I get to go out, perform and show people what I am made of at one of highest levels there is in high school."

When Santos originally announced that he wouldn't be joining Tennessee during the spring semester there was speculation made about the strength of his commitment, but he is as strong as ever.

"It has been really hard," he said. "There have been a lot of coaches coming in telling me everything you want to hear, but you know I haven't been to Tennessee in a long time. I haven't been up there in a couple of months and I miss it.

"It has been tough on me. I want to get back up there on Jan. 13 of this month, get back on campus and hang out with some of the guys. That makes it so much easier for me, it just reassures me that it is the place for me and that is where I want to be."

"That is where I want to be. That is what my mind is telling me and that is what my heart is telling me. I think Tennessee is what is best for me. I am ready to get back up there, hang out with some of the guys and get that feeling back. I love everything about that place. I am ready to get that feeling back and reassure myself."

The relationships with the Tennessee coaching staff has been crucial in Santos' recruitment, especially that of Peter Sirmon, who has been the lead on Santos since the beginning.

"I couldn't be more thankful to coach Dooley, coach Wilcox and coach Sirmon coming down to see me in my home," he said. "The relationship there is good. The thing is, that relationship with them, with Dooley and Sirmon, is so strong. That is one of the main reasons I am going there."

Things between Santos and his future coaches have become less centered on recruiting and more about friendships.

"Just talking to them as much as I have and staying in contact with them as much as I do, it's not about recruitment anymore," Santos said. "You feel like they are looking out for you and that is a big deal to me. They are great coaches, but they are even better men and that is a big deal to me."

While Sirmon and Dooley have played an enormous part in Santos' recruitment, give credit to the current Tennessee players, including A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt who hosted Santos on his official visit.

"You can't lay all your eggs in one basket," he said. "Next year I might look and coach Dooley or coach Sirmon might be gone, but no matter what happens with the coaches I know that I chose the best place for me not just because of the coaches. I chose Tennessee because of some of the guys I will be playing with, the town and there are so many good things about it that I like."

Tennessee fans can see Santos in action during the Under Armour All-America Game when it airs on ESPN on Thursday, Jan. 5, at 7:30 p.m. from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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