KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us daily at SEC Country for the latest recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers.
Over the weekend, Riley Locklear celebrated his 19th birthday at a cookout with family and friends.
Tennessee’s offensive line commit has plenty to be happy about these days, as his Spring Valley (W.Va.) High team is 8-1, including a big road victory last Friday.
The 6-foot-5, 290-pound 3-star prospect is eager to get to Tennessee, too, watching the Volunteers play live three times already this season (Battle at Bristol, Florida and Alabama).
Two months ago, Locklear learned he’d been approved to enroll at Tennessee in January — becoming the first athlete in Wayne County permitted to graduate early.
Recently, I caught up with Locklear to discuss his senior season, his trips to Tennessee and the process of making history.
You’re playing both offensive and defensive tackle this season. How’s the year going for you?
Locklear: “It’s going great. I can’t say enough about our defense. We took the No. 1 offensive team in the state, Capital High School, beat them 21-0 (last week) and held them to under 50 yards of total offense. I was blown away with how well we played.”
You’ve seen Tennessee play several times this year. What have those experiences been like?
Locklear: “Watching Tennessee really just gives me chills, seeing the fans and seeing how supportive they are of their team. Being there with my family (at the Alabama game) for the first time, they were just as excited as I was for my future at Tennessee.
The (Battle at Bristol) was definitely a surreal experience. Seeing the amount of people and seeing Tennessee’s travel fan base, too. They were absolutely just cheering and supporting the entire time. Even when we started slow against Virginia Tech, our fans were still on their feet the entire time. I felt so much warmth there. Saw a lot of different recruits and commits from my class. We’re all just excited.”
After a recent de-commitment, you’re Tennessee’s lone offensive line commit right now. How do you see your position group shaking out by signing day?
Locklear: “I’ve spoke with (OL coach Don Mahoney) a few times about it. Obviously, we still need some more offensive line commits in our class. All in all, I feel like we’re doing pretty good with the people we’re recruiting right now, especially top athletes like Trey Smith. He’s very athletic. He’s a very good offensive tackle. I’ve spoken with him several times. He seems to be a really good, well-rounded person, and that’s the kind of guys that me, coach Mahoney and everybody else wants to play with.
We just want to pick up guys like that. Guys that want to come in and get better and help out the team as much as possible.”
Since you’ve been committed for several months now, has your relationship changed with coach Mahoney?
Locklear: “I’ve always had a great relationship with coach Mahoney. Even before I committed, me and coach Mahoney talked on a personal level for a long time, and coach (Butch) Jones. They keep up with my games. I know that coach Mahoney attended my Huntington High school game earlier in the season. He’s told me that he’s gotten online and watched clips or even sections of my whole game on live stream. He says just keep up the good work, keep working hard.”
What was the process of becoming the first athlete in Wayne County allowed to graduate early?
Locklear: (The board) wasn’t real receptive (initially) because they’ve had other students try to early graduate before. But we gathered all the information that we needed. Tennessee was a huge help, being able to get in papers and being able to talk to them personally. We attended that council meeting and they eventually saw it as: ‘They have all the information. This kid is a well-rounded academic student and athlete.’ We prepared months. They couldn’t find a reason as to why I shouldn’t graduate early.
It really came all together after talking with my coaches about graduating early and taking that opportunity. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Why not graduate early?’ Then I can go through spring ball, improve even more. Come in there a semester early and be able to work out, condition, spring ball and be able to get (a jump) on that next season. Whenever I talked to my board members about graduating early, they were pretty supportive of me, honestly. After I showed them my academic standing, with all the support from Tennessee and the coaches, showing (the board) the benefits of being able to graduate early, they really accepted it. They saw it as, ‘This young man can do some really good things. Why not let him go off to college?’
My test grades and classroom grades were more than enough. My cumulative (GPA) is a 3.9. With my ACT scores and my attendance in school, my grades, I didn’t have to do anything extra to be able to graduate early.”
Locklear, who plays to study either engineering or exercise science at Tennessee, will take his official visit on Dec. 9. After a concluding his fall semester at Spring Valley, the offensive lineman will have a short Christmas break before moving to Tennessee and starting classes on Jan. 11.
Top 3 performances by Vols commits
* Clearwater Central Catholic (Fla.) athlete C.J. Cotman. The 3-star prospect scored 3 touchdowns on 188 all-purpose yards, including an 82-yard kickoff return for a score.
* Hardin County athlete LaTrell Bumphus. The 3-star defensive end/tailback stuffed the stat sheet with 2 sacks and 3 rushing touchdowns.
* Overton safety Theo Jackson. The 3-star recruit had 5 receptions for 146 yards and a touchdown in a 38-0 win. Jackson added an interception on defense, too.