For Dorian Gerald, suffice it to say that June 7, 2017, is a date that will be circled heavily when he looks back on the calendar later in life.
On that particular Wednesday, Gerald and family made their way to Knoxville for a visit to Tennessee’s campus. Almost exactly four weeks later, he declared himself a Volunteer.
“I mean I knew I was going to commit to Tennessee when I went on the visit,” Gerald told Scout recruiting analyst John Garcia Jr. “I don’t know if you saw it or not, but I put in a couple interviews a long time ago and I said it was a perfect visit. Everyone questioned me, ‘Did you really mean perfect?’ Yes, and I meant it. It was a perfect visit. Everything about it…I just knew I was going to commit. I was going to commit while I was there, but I wanted to make sure that this was what I wanted to do. I have all my family. I’m a big family guy, and they all supported me. So I felt that’s where I want to be at.
“I prayed on it since the day I left.I probably prayed every single night since I left Tennessee. And I’m not even going to try to lie to you. I tried to find ways…I tried to make up negative thoughts in my head to make me feel like, ‘OK, why is this feeling so strong for Tennessee?’ I tried to find every way, but everything kept pointing towards Tennessee. I can’t go against God.
“My dad is a Tennessee fan. On my visit, my grandmother went, my dad and my brother went. The only person I really had to talk to and explain everything to was my mom —about the visit. She’s just supported me the whole way. She’s actually a (South) Carolina fan. When I told her, she didn’t like it in the beginning, but she just really realized, ‘OK.’ She’s had many conversations with all the coaches. I mean they just supported me the whole way.”
Gerald is a Scout four-star defensive end prospect from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California, that prepped at West Florence (S.C.) High School. He is at the same JUCO that produced former Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera, who signed a two-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this summer.
Butch Jones and his staff didn’t know for certain that Gerald was going to be a Volunteer until roughly 10 minutes before the news went public Thursday.
“Everyone was excited,” Gerald said. “No one was more excited than (Tennessee offensive line) coach (Walt) Wells though. Coach Wells is my main recruiter. He went through the roof. When I told him, he just screamed. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying. It was just screaming. Everyone for the most part was really happy. I’ve heard from almost every coach on the staff now welcoming me to Tennessee and everything. So, I mean, it’s been good.”
The Florence, South Carolina, native lists at 6 feet 3, 255 pounds. He chose Tennessee over offers from the likes of Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Louisiana State, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas A&M. The first school to offer was Georgia State. His reason for the timing of the commitment was simple: Why wait?
“Because when you find a family that wants you just as much as you want them, it’s no need. I hear people say that some of the top recruits are waiting just for the hype. That’s not me. I always said, when three things lined up — my family, my heart and God — I was going to commit and I’ll do things then. There was no need to wait.”
Now that Butch Jones has four years under his belt, he has players he can point to and show recruits that his staff will use them in similar fashion to those VFLs. In Gerald’s case, program sack record holder Derek Barnett is the blueprint for how the Vols will construct their defensive front around Gerald.
“They bring up Derek Barnett a lot, so I’ll be doing some of the same things he did,” Gerald said. “He dropped in coverage a little bit, but he really was a monster pass rusher. With 33 sacks, that’s what he was there for. They envision me with the same…I have to come in and work. I’m not saying I’m nowhere near Derek Barnett in any way. I’m just saying that’s the kind of role they want me to come in and play.”
The addition of Gerald moves Tennessee back up to No. 4 in Scout’s national recruiting rankings for 2018. The Vols also have the No. 3-ranked group of defensive linemen as the JUCO standout joins Jamarcus Chatman, Greg Emerson, Brant Lawless and D’Andre Litaker.
Gerald has three years to play two seasons at Tennessee. Presently, he is in summer school in attempt to be academically eligible to enroll in classes in Knoxville in January.
“We’re not 100 percent sure yet, but of course I want to be an early enrollee,” he said.
In 11 games as a freshman in 2016, Gerald recorded 54 tackles (32 solo), 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery that he turned into a touchdown.
Jaylen Gerald is Dorian’s brother and plans to suit up for Arizona Western Community College. Dorian is a strong believer in the bloodline. Stay tuned to see if the Vols get involved with Jaylen as well.
Scout recruiting analyst John Garcia Jr. contributed to this report.