CHARLOTTE — A decision that was once supposed to come during the 2016 high school football season has been sped up to "within the month" for IMG Academy linebacker Santino Marchiol. The Scout four-star prospect thought he would wait until after the summer months to decide on where he'll play college football, but after visiting some of his favorite schools, Marchiol is ready to pull the trigger soon.
"I visited Tennessee multiple times and I've have a fantastic experience there," Marchiol told InsideTennessee at The Opening Charlotte on Sunday. "The Vols are amazing. The support is crazy out there. I love Texas A&M, which was also a great visit. Ole Miss is coming up next week. Ohio State, Stanford, Nebraska, Miami and North Carolina, those are some of the other ones I like. My decision is coming down pretty quick."
The Vols sit atop Marchiol's list, along with Texas A&M and Ole Miss, as he combs through more than a dozen offers. Tennessee coach Butch Jones keeps in near-constant contact with the 6-foot-2, 225-pound rising senior, and that relationship has helped Jones' program vault to the forefront of Marchiol's list. The No. 4-ranked outside linebacker in Florida was also impressed by the fan support in Knoxville during his multiple visits, something that drew Marchiol in very early.
"I talk to Butch Jones, the head coach, multiple times per week," he said. "(I also talk to) the linebacker coach, coach (Tommy) Thigpen, and the new the defensive coordinator, coach (Bob) Shoop. Being out to Knoxville a few times, the support from the fans is unbelievable. I'm a recruit out there and I go out there and they're asking for my autograph."
Playing in front of 102,455 fans every Saturday appeals to Marchiol, a hard-hitting linebacker who is being courted by Tennessee to replace senior Jalen Reeves-Maybin at the Will linebacker spot. Fan support and the opportunity to play early serves as a drawing point for one of the best linebackers in the South Region.
"That's something I want," Marchiol told IT. "I've always wanted to play in front of a big crowd, play in somewhere where I can thrive. They don't have many linebackers there, so their (weakside linebacker), which coach Thigpen wants me to play, is actually graduating this year. That's a great opportunity."
The class of 2017 prospect got to know Reeves-Maybin and rising sophomore linebacker Darrin Kirkland on his trips to Tennessee, strengthening a bond with some of Tennessee's most popular players that certainly assists in the recruiting process for the Vols.
"Those are actually some of my good friends," Marchiol said. "They say, 'This is all our coaching staff talks about, bro. We've got to get you here. It's the best program there is.' They say I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. That's always good to hear about a program. I love it out there."
But despite a strong bond with Tennessee's coaching staff and players, Marchiol is taking a business-like approach to his commitment and is searching for the place where he can thrive as a player no matter who is standing on the sideline.
"You can't fall in love with the coaching staff, because coaching staffs change all the time," Marchiol told IT. "You have to really fall in love with the place, the university and make sure that you're going to thrive there. All those schools that I listed have great business programs that I want to go into, so that's obviously a big consideration, but it's going to be a family decision."