Tennessee is looking to recapture its glory from the 1990s. Join us daily at SEC Country for the latest Tennessee recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Volunteers. Check out previous editions here. In this edition, we discuss a former Tennessee commit and everything that happened in his recruitment.
What about Tennessee?
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Last fall, Tennessee commit D’Andre Litaker felt as if he had finally knocked the rust off after missing almost his entire junior season following a left ACL tear. He was six games into his senior season at Riverdale High School and hardly felt the ill-effects of the injury. He was playing well, perhaps you could even say dominating as an SEC commit should on the high school level.
Then everything changed. An opposing player hit his right knee. Litaker knew immediately his senior season had come to a screeching halt.
“I couldn’t run off the field. I thought my whole leg broke,” Litaker told SEC Country. “I wasn’t even worried about me, though.
“I was worried about UT. Like what now?”
Litaker had sustained his second torn ACL in as many seasons. He’d never play high school football again. He might never dominate a game or be a leader on the football field again. The hard work to become a 4-star defensive tackle and one of the best prospects from the Volunteer State — gone. Just like that.
It’s truly amazing his mind didn’t go to any of that, though. Once he knew it was a torn ACL, his mind went straight to his future of playing in Neyland Stadium on Saturdays in the fall. Which was kind of a funny thought. He had come around to the idea of playing in Tennessee and committed in June 2017. He had grown attached to the Big Orange, but it wasn’t always that way.
“I’m an in-state kid,” Litaker said. “At first, I didn’t even want to live in Tennessee. I hated it so bad, but ever since my mom passed and I got left with my sisters, I didn’t want to live so far to where they couldn’t get to me. For them and for my family, I wanted to stay close. That’s really it.”
The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Litaker held onto his Tennessee commitment until six days before National Signing Day in February when he announced his de-commitment. Many believed this was the new Tennessee staff possibly stringing him along until they found another prospect.
This wasn’t the case at all though. The split with Tennessee came long before coach Jeremy Pruitt and his staff ever took jobs on Rocky Top. It was the Butch Jones staff that had turned away from Litaker.
At first, he was still hearing from the Tennessee staff, then the communication just stopped.
“Yeah, it changed a lot,” Litaker said. “It was weird. Coach [Brady] Hoke and Coach [Walt] Wells would text me every day. That’s what I’d wake up to, the UT text. Then the communication died down completely. I wasn’t hearing from them for months. I just kept thinking they were busy and doing their thing recruiting other people. Really, I wasn’t worried about it. It just kept happening. I’d text them and they’d read it but not reply. That’s when I knew something was up. I wasn’t worried about, just kept thinking they were doing their thing.’
Instead, they had changed their mind about Litaker being part of the Class of 2018 for the Volunteers.
“When I got the news, I should have known something was up. They talked to me about my knee. They didn’t think I could play at that level.”
There still was hope for Litaker’s desire to play for Tennessee when the Jones staff was fired. Litaker had been recruited by Pruitt at Alabama at a time. They too were skeptical about his ability to reclaim his dominant status as a defensive end.
“Pruitt’s staff still wanted me to come,” Litaker said. “They would have still had me on scholarship, but I just wouldn’t play football.”
That’s a generous offer from Pruitt and his staff — especially since they ran off about half of Jones’ other commits. Litaker understood where they were coming from not giving him a scholarship to play football. Still, he believes he can play at the highest level in college football. That’s what is driving him to push through his workouts now and get back to where he once was.
And perhaps commit to a team in time to play this fall.
Tennessee’s coaches stand out a lot to Litaker if they ever were to reconsider their stance.
“Pruitt is a good dude,” Litaker said. “I met him when he was at Alabama. He’s got a good staff behind him too. Especially the defensive line with Tracy Rocker. Those are some good dudes. If they stepped out on their faith, I’d be back with them in a heartbeat.”
Motivation and regret
Litaker still has a goal of making the NFL one day to provide for his family. He said he knows it won’t be easy, but he’s also putting in the effort to get his body right. He works out twice a day and goes for a run as well. Oklahoma as well as a few other Power 5 schools reach out to him. They want to see how much progress he can make before offering him.
Litaker uses the doubt from the Jones staff as his daily motivation.
“The first staff wanted me but they felt like I wouldn’t be able to play there,” Litaker said. “Because of the two injuries.
“I still feel like if they had stuck with me, I’d probably be on my way to being a first-round pick in the draft.”
Litaker can’t remember exactly when Jones’ staff pulled off him. He just remembers wanting Tennessee to still take him.
He said he believes holding on to the Tennessee commitment after the tide started to turn was a misstep. De-committing in October or November might have given some other schools more of an idea he was available and to recruit him.
“I should have done that,” Litaker said. “I’d probably be in a school right now or be committed to one. That was probably one of the smartest moves that I should have made.
“I just wanted to stay close and play in that stadium up there.”
That’s a thoughtful response with a perspective that most people in their last few weeks of high school just don’t have. But then again, Litaker isn’t like most others.
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