Vols face tough competition for Maleik Gray

Maleik Gray may be the best football prospect the Volunteer State has to offer in the 2017 class. Sign in to read about his recruitment.

It’s going to be a long, winding road head for Tennessee coaches in their pursuit of Maleik Gray.

The Scout four-star prospect from the Class of 2017 has heard plenty from the Vols for years already but the competition includes some of the top programs in the country.

“I like Tennessee,” Gray said. “They’re really cracking down hard on me and showing me a lot of love. I also like them. But, I mean, anything is liable to happen within my 2-3 years left of high school.”

Florida State has really caught Gray’s eye early in the process. LSU has made up some ground as well. Just one program figures to have enough going for it to catch the ‘Noles.

“UT. I would say UT honestly,” Gray said. “I actually like that they’re showing me a lot of love and showing that they really want me.”

Tennessee ead coach Butch Jones, defensive backs coach Willie Martinez and linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen are heading up the charge to get the LaVergne High School standout to play his college football on Rocky Top.

“On signing day, I talked to at least five of the coaches — coach Martinez. I talked to a bunch of guys. I can’t remember their names,” Gray said.

“They are just showing me that they really want me and I’m atop their Class of 2017, the top guy that they want, just showing me a lot of love.”

The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder ranks as a safety presently but time on the second level of a defense may be in Gray’s future.

“I play outside linebacker now, and (Tennessee) told me that if I can put on more weight I could possibly play outside linebacker for them,” he said.

“I actually love it. I feel comfortable playing there. It’s where the contact is.”

The sophomore started making trips to Knoxville to see games as an unofficial visit when he was in middle school. Gray attended the Florida-Tennessee game in October.

“The atmosphere is crazy period at UT honestly. The fans are die hard. I like the love that they show to players. I would like that,” said Gray, who is one of the Vol State’s early four-star prospects for 2017 alongside Jacoby Stevens and Isaiah Stokes.

Gray is familiar with two of Tennessee’s freshmen as he used to train with defensive end Derek Barnett and wide receiver Josh Malone. It’s going to take more than simply knowing other guys on a team to get Gray signed.

“It’s not about that,” he said. “I also look at the academics part and what I’m going to major in and stuff like that. I mean I’m friends with the guys. The teammates, I know them. But, I’m mainly focused on what I want.”

The ‘backer didn’t hesitate when noting which program has the early lead: “Florida State. Anything is liable to happen but that’s just where my heart is right now — Florida State.

“The culture and I love the type of mentality that the defense plays with. I just want to be a part of something like that and I just look the school overall with the indians and the Seminoles and stuff like that. It just really grabs my attention.”

He watched the Seminoles play twice last season, checking out the Miami and Notre Dame games.

Coaches from Florida State, Ohio State and Tennessee came by LaVergne High in January.

Gray said he is up for West Coast visits to Oregon and USC and is interested in checking out Florida and Georgia.

The super soph doesn’t expect to make a verbal declaration anytime soon.

“I want to hold off until my official visits because I think something is liable to happen. Anything can happen,” Gray said.

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