"This was an unbelievable experience and it was the first time I was up here with my boy Derek," Gaulden told InsideTennessee of his future roommate. "We just took it all in and saw ourselves out on the field next year. It was a great atmosphere and even better win."
The former teammates, who played together at Brentwood Academy as sophomores, have talked before about what it would be like playing football together at the next level and now it is close to becoming a reality.
"It's awesome to have him up here," Gaulden said. "He's (Barnett) one of the final pieces to the puzzle for our recruiting class that we are still adding on to. I felt like it was my duty to get him in orange and white."
The FOX Sports and Scout three-star safety, who has 100 tackles on the season for the Eagles (5-3), was very impressed in the Vols' 23-21 win over South Carolina by the defensive effort and game clock management by first-year head coach Butch Jones.
"I felt like we did everything we needed to win," he said. "The defense really gave us an advantage. The ability to cause those turnovers was huge and has been something that they've been preaching all year. This was a statement win and it was coach Jones' first big SEC win and one that will propel the program."
It was a positive reinforcement for Gaulden to see Tennessee come through with the upset victory, as he was also in attendance at the Georgia game two weeks before that ended in a different outcome.
"You have to have a great family to be able to perform like this," he said. "We almost took down the No. 6 team in the country the game before and we followed up by taking down the No. 11 team today. Things are going in the right direction, everything is coming together."
With presumably three more spots to fill for next year's recruiting class there were also many JUCO recruits in attendance at the game that got to see a glimpse into the future for the Vols football program. One even left giving the program his verbal commitment — LaVon Pearson.
"Even the JUCO guys that were here got to see what Tennessee has to offer and how we can take down some of the top teams in the country," he said. "The vibe is really good from them, too. Some of them just got here for the first time and they are already in love with Tennessee. We are obviously doing something right over here. It's easy to attract recruits with the personalities that the coaches have here."
One player that Gaulden has continually taken note of while watching his future team play this season has been freshman defensive back Cameron Sutton, who yet again provided the Vols with a game-changing play in the secondary by hauling in his second interception of the fall.
"I really like watching him play, he's doing really big things as a freshman," Gaulden said of Sutton. "One other player I also model is Ed Reed. I try to take a lot from his game and put it into my game."
The trip to Rocky Top last weekend for he and Barnett, along with current Independence teammate Vic Wharton, was everything they had hoped for.
"From here on out I just want to stay healthy and get to Rocky Top as soon as possible with everybody else," Gaulden said. "Tennessee will soon be a threat to be mentioned with in the SEC East for years to come."
The Eagles take on TSSAA District 11-AAA rival Franklin in a battle for second place outright on Friday night.