Neal eager to join Vols

Derek Dooley didn't have him at hello. But he had him shortly thereafter.

Incoming freshman Rajion Neal always fancied Tennessee's football program. Once he met Tennessee's new head coach, the deal was sealed.

"He had me when he came to the high school," Neal said by phone from the family home in Tyrone, Ga. "I always liked Tennessee, and he put the icing on the cake when he talked to me."

Neal's fondness for the Big Orange stems in part from the success some fellow Georgians previously enjoyed on The Hill.

"Tennessee had always been a soft spot in my heart with (Atlanta's) Jamal Lewis and (Fairburn's) Eric Berry going there," Neal said. "Once Coach Dooley came to meet me, I felt comfortable enough with Tennessee to make it my home."

Neal was the only running back signed by the Vols last February but he should be sufficient. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder rushed for 1,812 yards and 33 touchdowns for Sandy Creek High last fall, earning recognition as the state's Class AAAA Offensive Player of the Year.

"I would say I'm a mixture between (Minnesota's Adrian) Peterson and (New Orleans' Reggie) Bush," Neal said. "I can get to the edge and strike the long run but I can also get the tough yards between the tackles.

"The thing I do best is probably making people miss because of my vision and patience. I wait for my blocks to set up, then I explode."

Neal says he compiled more than 500 yards on kickoff returns last season and also caught enough passes out of the backfield to convince college recruiters his hands are more than adequate.

Since signing with the Vols last winter, Neal says he's been working diligently to get ready for the rigors of college football.

"I've just been training, working hard, studying my playbook," he said. "I'm in the gym three days a week working on speed and agility and I lift weights two days a week. I'm also enjoying the moment a little bit, finishing up my senior year."

Neal plans to enroll in the first session of summer school at UT on June 1 to get a head start on his academics.

Interestingly enough, Oklahoma native David Oku is the only non-Georgian who will be competing for Tennessee's tailback job this fall. In addition to Neal, the Peach State brigade includes Tauren Poole (Toccoa, Ga.) and Toney Williams (Alpharetta, Ga.).

Asked why Georgia produces so many good running backs, Neal replied: "I just know those are aggressive runners and good players. Georgia produces a lot of good prospects; I think it's the competitiveness in us."

Although Poole, Oku and Williams have the advantage of familiarity with Tennessee's offensive system, Neal expects to earn some playing time in Year One.

"I feel very good," he said. "I'm confident with how hard I've worked that I can come up there and get in the rotation."

So, what can Tennessee fans expect from him?

"You just never know," Neal said. "I can get you five to 10 yards or I can take it the whole way. You never know what you're getting with me. I'm exciting. You never know when I'm going to break a big play."

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