Nathan Niehaus has a tough decision on his hands.
The 6-foot-6, 259-pounder committed to West Virginia in July. On Saturday, the Scout No. 64-ranked offensive tackle in the 2016 class took his first visit to see Tennessee. In late January, Niehaus may take an official visit to his “dream school” Ohio State.
If competing in the Big 12 or Big Ten isn’t attractive enough, Niehaus may find himself blocking for the orange-clad Southeastern Conference school.
“It was great,” Niehaus said of his unofficial visit. “I feel like everything exceeded what I expected, so it was a pleasant surprise.
“I didn’t make a decision. I might make like a final decision coming up within the next month.
“I just really expected what I already knew about it. I knew I would find some new stuff out. I just really expected an average SEC team, but I feel like when I came out everything about it — like the way the coaches handle their players, the way they handle the recruits even and the way coach (Butch) Jones was talking with me a lot — just exceeded what I thought it would be and it was a pleasant surprise.
“Definitely the stadium (exceeded expectations). I like their facilities. Just pretty much everything really.”
All a program can do is sell student-athletes on an education, on its people and its vision. Jones knows this and is leaving the rest up to the Ohio-based blocker.
“Coach Jones, he was just saying that, ‘We want you and it’s a great place for you here,’” Niehaus said. “It wasn’t any pressure at all; he wasn’t pressuring me or pushing down on me, which is what I really liked about it. He was just more relaxed and friendly about it, saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got a place for you here. If you don’t choose us then that’s your choice. But, if you do then that’s great.’ That’s the kind of characteristic of a coach that I really like.”
First-year Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord and third-year offensive line coach Don Mahoney have spearheaded the recruitment of the Scout three-star prospect in the 2016 class.
“What I like about them is they’re really personable,” Niehaus said. “They’re a lot more personable than some people I’ve come across in the way that they talk with my parents and just talk with me.”
The Scout No. 4-ranked offensive tackle in Ohio watched Team 119 do work on Haslam Field on Saturday.
“They had a crazy practice,” Niehaus said. “It was really energetic and everybody was everywhere, short periods and just how everybody was flying around. A little bit of a resemblance of what we had at my high school, but it was just all constantly moving, constantly here and just different places.
“(The practice) tells me a lot more on how (Mahoney) is as a coach and as a personal teacher. The way he talks with you just as a recruit then the way he treats you as a player what you would want out of a coach. He’s not always the friendly, nice guy then as a coach he can make the switch to nice, friendly guy. Then, when he needs to, put his foot up your butt.”
Tennessee starting guard Dylan Wiesman hails from the same Colerain (Ohio) High School at which Niehaus plays.
Niehaus plans to officially visit Tennessee on the Jan. 15 weekend and West Virginia on the Jan. 22 weekend. A trip away from his Cincinnati home might also be in the works for Jan. 29.
“I’m thinking I might do Cincinnati, but I mean I’ve already been down to Cincinnati so much and I’ve been around their players so much with my brother,” said Niehaus whose brother David is a walk-on back-up center for coach Tommy Tuberville.
“I’m leaning toward Cincinnati, but I talked with Ohio State recently. If that works out, I might go there, too, just to make an official visit.
“Ohio State’s been my dream school my whole life really. If they were to make an offer, it would kind of put some pressure on me. Then, that’s when it would come down to where I would have the best environment. That’s when I would compare the coaches and stuff instead of just the actual football.”
Tennessee left an impression on Niehaus. It wasn’t quite enough to get him to pull himself off West Virginia’s commitment class, which ranks No. 30 nationally.
“I think I’m going to wait regardless. That’s just what I feel like I should do,” he said.
Niehaus noted that he “definitely” could change his mind in Tennessee’s favor.
“I’m feeling pretty good (about Tennessee),” said Niehaus, who has grandparents in Clinton and an aunt that resides in Strawberry Plains.