Jalen Smith visited Tennessee for the first time in late March after getting a scholarship offer from the Vols more than two months earlier, and he was surprised by just how much they impressed him while he was there. He’s now planning to return to Tennessee next month to take a closer look at the program.
The Class of 2023 linebacker from Grayson High School in Loganville, Ga., told GoVols247 that he has scheduled an official visit to Tennessee the weekend of June 10. He said the Vols recently have sent two of their assistant coaches to Grayson to check on him, and they’re one of the top teams he’s considering among his nearly 40 scholarship offers.
Tennessee is one of two schools that already have made plans to host the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith on official visits. He also announced Thursday that he’s set to travel to Pittsburgh on an official visit the weekend of June 24.
Smith said Vols coach Josh Heupel’s staff has made him a priority since extending an offer to him in January, and he’s planning to take an official visit to Tennessee for multiple reasons.
“I feel like Coach Heupel, the things he’s doing, with all the coaching changes, I feel like he’s going to bring Tennessee back to the program that it’s supposed to be, as well as Coach BJ,” Smith said, referring to Vols linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary. “And I feel like he’s going to help me develop into the best player I need to be on and off the field.
“I also feel like Tennessee, it’s not far from home, and their campus is very nice, very beautiful. I really enjoyed that visit.”
Jean-Mary visited Grayson earlier this month to check on Smith, he said, and Tennessee defensive line coach Rodney Garner stopped at the school on Monday. Smith said he has continued to hear from the Vols “just about” every day, led by Heupel, Jean-Mary and defensive analyst Chad Creamer.
“Definitely, I’ve been in contact with Coach Heupel a ton, Coach BJ and Coach Creamer,” Smith said. “They’re constantly recruiting me, talking to me every day, as well as my parents. Coach Heupel has jumped on FaceTime and talked to my parents, just letting them know I’m one of their top guys and that they really love me down there. I feel like that’s a big part that goes into why they got an official visit.
“They’ve been making me a priority since they offered me. Coach BJ came in and offered me and just was pretty consistent from that point, as was Coach Heupel.”
Tennessee hosted Smith for the first time March 26 for its first spring practice in pads. He said his first visit with the Vols surpassed his expectations.
“Their campus is very beautiful,” he said. “I feel like it caught me by surprise, being my first time there. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I feel like they definitely caught my attention once I visited.
“As far as seeing their practices, seeing their facilities, campus, I really enjoyed it. Their practices are very fast-paced — kind of similar to our high school practices — so I feel like I would be able to adjust to what they have going on there very well.
“Coach Heupel, he kind of wowed me, I would say.”
Smith said Tennessee’s coaches, including Jean-Mary, have made it clear that they like what they have seen from him on film. Last season, he recorded a school-record 173 total tackles, including 14.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, as a first-year starter at powerhouse Grayson.
“Coach BJ has talked about that,” Smith said. “He’s saying that he sees me as their Will linebacker, playing outside the box, as well as a run-fitter.
“With some of their linebackers being seniors and graduating, they definitely said I have an opportunity to come in and play. (They like) just my speed, my quickness, just (being) able to be around the ball always, as well as being a sure tackler. I had very few missed tackles.
“I led my schools in tackles — broke the (single-season) record. That kind of stood out to them, just seeing that I was able to cover in space, tackle in space — be a guy that can run sideline to sideline.”
Smith said Tennessee is one of the schools talking with him most frequently, along with Texas, LSU, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Miami and Oregon. He said he’s still in the process of setting up more visits, and he currently plans “to take all five” of his official visits before announcing his college choice.
With Smith currently hoping to take all of his official visits by next month, he said he envisions making a “summer decision.”