Tennessee football: Why Riverdale's Elijah Herring wasn't fazed by struggles of Vols
Tallying just three wins in 2020, firing its football coach and being put under a microscope for NCAA violations has made recruiting for the 2022 class difficult for Tennessee and new coach Josh Heupel.
That didn't faze Riverdale junior linebacker Elijah Herring, who committed to Tennessee Wednesday, choosing the Vols over five other SEC schools and Michigan, among others.
"(Controversy surrounding the program) was big, but I didn't think about it too much," Herring said. "It didn't affect me much."
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Herring is the first Vols commitment in the 2022 class (after a defensive end committed in August 2020 but decommitted in January).
"I knew I was the first commit," Herring said. "It feels great to be the first person to commit to Coach Heupel and the great staff he has."
That staff had a lot to do with Herring's decision.
"I got to know them a lot ... each and every one of them," Herring said of his relationship with Heupel and the new staff at UT. "Linebackers coach B.J. (Brian Jean-Mary) and I talked to most."
Herring is rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports Composite, which lists him as the No. 48 linebacker in the nation in the 2022 class and 29th overall in Tennessee.
He also had offers from SEC schools Mississippi State, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Missouri, as well as Power 5 schools Arizona State, Virginia Tech, Kansas and Duke and also Memphis and Coastal Carolina.
"(The coaches) talked about how they knew each other through the years and communicated with each other," said Herring, who was a first-team Murfreesboro all-area linebacker as a junior with 51 tackles (10 for loss), 3.5 sacks and a blocked punt.
"They sold me on God and how they wanted to bring Tennessee football back to how it once was back when Peyton Manning was there."
Herring helped lead Riverdale to a 10-3 record and trip to the Class 6A state quarterfinals in 2020.
"(Assistant) Coach (Zachary) Rayl and I talked with him about the process," Riverdale coach Will Kriesky said. "We didn't sway him one way or another. I like the kids to decide on their own. I talked to his mom a few times about it and they took the process seriously and made the best decision for Elijah."
Reach Cecil Joyce at email@example.com or 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.