Maleik Gray took part in his “most extensive” visit to Tennessee thus far when he tripped to Rocky Top on March 5.
That’s saying something for a Volunteer State prospect who’s been making his way to Knoxville as a recruit since he was in eighth grade.
“It was really good for me to get back and talk to the coaches,” Gray said. “I haven’t seen any of the coaches in a long period of time. It’s just good to get back on campus. I just missed it, honestly I missed it.”
Butch Jones made a change this winter at defensive coordinator and brought in Bob Shoop from Penn State.
“Coach Shoop, honestly, has been the reason why” the Scout 100 talent continue to take a harder look at Tennessee after having Florida State and Southern California out front for several months.
“We just started talking and he was telling me a little bit about himself and I told him a little bit about myself,” Gray said. “We had a great connection. I just felt like it was a good time for us to get to know each other better. It seems like with him taking control of the defense, he’s leading them in the right direction. That’s what I like. I really like him a lot.
“(Shoop) also recruited me from Vandy and it’s just the stuff that he showed me and I feel like he’s wanting to be the best and that’s what I want to be — a part of the best.”
The Scout four-star prospect from the 2017 class and No. 3-rated safety in the South was told by Tennessee coaches he would play “nickelback, safety, how I can move around to blitzing, man, dropping back in coverage, just all types of different things, how I can be used a lot on on the defense, how they can create the defensive scheme around me.”
From Shoop to linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen to defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, it’s a team effort to get the La Vergne (Tenn.) High School talent to ink with the Volunteers. That grind paid off at least for the moment as Tennessee moved in front of USC.
“I would say top 2,” said Gray, who maintains that the Seminoles have the top spot. “They’re recruiting me much harder (at Tennessee than previously).”
The mid-state native noted that the distance to Los Angeles is a factor as to why USC fell off some because “I want my Mom to be able to come see me a lot, family members and friends come see me play in person. UT would be a great place for them to come watch me play in state.”
Florida State’s lead for the No. 48 player in the nation may be temporary with the Big Orange coming on strong.
“The (Seminoles) coaches are still down on me hard and just really showing that they care about but you can’t really go off based off the coaches,” Gray said. “I also love the school itself. And the players…I know some of the players personally. I would like to play with them but I feel like I know more people here (at Tennessee) than I do at Florida State and it’s closer to home.”