Ani Izuchukwu made the move from Nigeria to the Volunteer State just two years ago, and it was almost immediately after that Tennessee sought after his talents.
The Vols wasted no time in offering the then-freshman defensive end out of Davidson Academy in Nashville last February.
Last weekend's junior day recruiting event marked the third time the sophomore has been to Knoxville, and it was time well spent.
“It was good,” the Scout four-star defensive end prospect said. “The coaching staff and all that, it’s really good. (The coaches) are really nice so it’s good.
“If the coaches really want you, that is the most important thing. I had a great conversation with them.”
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound lineman spent time getting to know newly-hired defensive line coach Brady Hoke.
“He’s a cool dude,” Izuchukwu said of Hoke. “He’s new here. He’s like trying to get into the game and talk to people, and talk to the recruits and all that stuff, trying to let us know that he is new here. But he already knows a little about Tennessee. He’s a funny guy, he’s cool. And those coaches may by funny now, but gametime, they aren’t funny anymore. It’s gametime. But I know that, though.”
Apart from clicking with the coaching staff, something else that impresses Izuchukwu about Big Orange football is the overall growth of the program from last season’s come-from-behind victories to the Anderson Training Center.
When asked what stood out to him about Team 120, he said, “most of the big games when they came back, the Hail Mary and stuff like that. It was a neat game. I was surprised, you know. So I think they’re doing good, really good.
“I saw some of the facilities and stuff. I think they kind of changed some things. It wasn’t like that the two times that I showed up last year. So I think they’re growing.”
Though he’s only lived in the Volunteer State for about two years, the Nigeria native’s interest is sparked by the idea of playing in-state.
“(On Saturday), I was watching some of the top players who have come through here,” he said. “They’re from Tennessee, they grew up in Tennessee. That’s big stuff. Like me, I know that I’ve lived in Tennessee literally two years. I’m not from Tennessee, I’m from Nigeria, you know what I’m saying. But living here, it’s the first place that I’ve lived in America, so I’ll probably call that home.”
While his football skills continue to open doors of opportunity, the educational aspect holds equal importance to Izuchukwu, who inquires about the balance between his studies and athletics.
“I’m trying to learn more about the school,” he said. “It's not only about football, you need some education.
“With football, you’ve got to work hard and have the grades also, so I talked to them about that.”
The Nashville resident is taking a businesslike approach to his recruitment in order to determine the school that will utilize his potential to the fullest.
“I don’t want to go to a place that they are going to promise me that ‘this is the year I’m going to start playing,’ and when it (gets to be that year) they don’t play me, you know what I’m saying? Even if it is a small school or a big school, I just want (them) to keep (their) promise.
“You don’t just go because they’re big, or they’re doing good, or they won a championship. I don’t really care about (those things). What I care about is my one time, I want to give it all to the school. You’ve got to give me a chance so to give my best.”
Though the Class of 2019 prospect is still early in the process, he has already created some goals for his recruitment timeline.
“I just want to use this year and do whatever I could do, like go to many colleges, see the differences — all that stuff. Then my junior year, start concentrating on all the ones that will probably be my top 10 or top 5. Then my senior year, once I visit those top 10, then I’ll get to know where to go to.”
Izuchukwu holds multiple offers from Southeastern Conference schools including Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt to name some. Last summer, Alabama and Auburn were among the schools at which he attended camp.
“I’m hoping to go to a lot of places this summer mostly because I didn’t go (to a lot of schools) last year,” he said.
As of now, he is unsure of where his upcoming visits will be.
InsideTennessee's Danny Parker contributed to this report.