Nathan Niehaus granted himself the opportunity to play his home college football games close to family be verbally committing to Tennessee on Friday.
The Scout three-star offensive tackle has grandparents in nearby Clinton and an aunt less than 20 minutes from Rocky Top in Strawberry Plains.
“When I started talking to Tennessee, that was the first thing that popped in my mind. Grandma and Grandpa are going to be right down the street,” said Niehaus, who got the Vols scholarship offer in December. “It will be just like my brother at Cincinnati. He can just come home whenever he wants.”
Niehaus was part of a two-day haul for Tennessee’s 2016 class that also included Peachtree Ridge (Ga.) High School cornerback Baylen Buchanan. They bring the pledge sheet up to 17, which means few spots remaining.
Tennessee addressed a pressing need by getting Niehaus to flip his commitment from West Virginia.
“What sets me apart is I’m really more of the taller, athletic type other than your average just tall, big, slow offensive tackle,” Niehaus said. “I feel like the way they utilize me would be to their advantage of however they run their offense to maybe even modify certain plays to use me in specific parts.”
Under coach Butch Jones, the Vols went 5-7 in 2013 before a TaxSlayer Bowl victory over Iowa and a 7-5 finish last year. On Friday, they blew out No. 13 Northwestern 45-6 to improve to 9-4. The upward trend is what Niehaus found attractive.
“Well, the way coach Jones and the coaching staff have turned Tennessee around, I mean they were just an average team not too long ago,” Niehaus said. “Since he’s been here, it hasn’t been getting anything but better. I’ve seen it myself even though I haven’t really followed Tennessee until recently. I’ve just known that having coach Jones was a good decision by Tennessee, and I know that they’re not getting anything but better.”
Niehaus plays at the same Colerain (Ohio) High School as Vols starting offensive guard Dylan Wiesman.
At 6-feet-6, 259 pounds, the Scout No. 4-ranked offensive tackle in Ohio’s 2016 class understands the need to pack on solid mass and the time it will take after discussions with Tennessee coaches.
“They were like, ‘Man, you’re going to get huge here,’” Niehaus said. “I don’t doubt it.”
The three-star doesn’t have plans to add tons of weight between now and college enrollment. In fact, he has a round number for the weight he’ll carry to Knoxville.
“Probably like 260. That would be good enough for me. I’m confident that they’ll shoot me up to where I need to be.”
Niehaus did not graduate in December. An official visit to Tennessee in mid-January is in the works. He plans to play recreation basketball with friends between now and when he enrolls this summer.