'22 NC DE James Pearce

May 12, 2020
“It was cool,” said Pearce, who’s ranked by 247Sports as the No. 24 edge rusher in the 2022 class and the No. 18 senior from the state of North Carolina. “(I liked) the atmosphere. It just gets rocking on third down. That’s my favorite play.”

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Pearce said he was pleasantly surprised by the sheer size of Neyland Stadium, along with the environment on campus and inside the stadium.

“That was my first time there. It was surprising to me,” he said. “That was my first time ever at a college football game, for real. They told me it was cool. They were telling me (about it). But it ain’t nothing like seeing it yourself.”

Pearce said he’s not ready to name any favorites among the more than 15 schools pursuing him, but he admitted that Tennessee is high on his list. He said he has had some conversations with the Vols about a possible official visit to Knoxville, and regardless of whether they host him on one, he said he’s interested in making the trip to Tennessee again.

“I’ll try to get my mom to come back down there and see it,” said Pearce, who joined teammates Daylan Smothers and Mekhi Bigelow in traveling to Knoxville on Saturday. “I just really liked the fans and the atmosphere, and the coaches. They’re great coaches.”

During Saturday’s game, he said he “was mostly watching my position group,” focusing on the Vols’ edge rushers.

“Number 9 was cool,” Pearce said, referring to Tennessee sophomore defensive end/linebacker Tyler Baron, who recorded 2.5 tackles for loss against Pittsburgh. “(I watched) how they use guys, just watching for my personal use, too, how to get better, just watching the game.”

Pearce added that Tennessee’s defensive ends and outside linebackers “could’ve tackled the quarterback a little more.” The Vols had two sacks against the Panthers — recorded by defensive back Theo Jackson and linebacker Jeremy Banks — and Pearce said he could see an opportunity for himself to make an impact on Tennessee’s defense.

“They were just telling me before the game to watch my position, watch how I could come in and help,” Pearce said, recalling his pregame conversations with first-year Vols coach Josh Heupel’s staff.

After the game, Pearce said, Tennessee’s coaches “were still feeling good because of how close it was to a dub. But you know how it is after a loss sometimes.”

He said he doesn’t have any other trips scheduled at the moment, adding that he has “nothing I know of” planned. But he’s still hoping to visit other schools, and he’s currently in no hurry to decide on a college.

Earlier this week, he said he was planning to be an early enrollee at the school of his choice.

“I want to make (a decision) before — like, during December, before December — and try to leave in January,” Pearce said at the time. “If it’s meant to be, it should fall in place. Everything should just go how it’s supposed to go.”

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