Charlie High wanted to give his dream a chance.
Three-star quarterback Charlie High of Christian Academy of Knoxville (Tenn.), a two-time Class AA Mr. Football Award winner, has accepted a preferred walk-on spot at Tennessee.
And so when he accepted a preferred walk-on spot Saturday with the University of Tennessee football program, the 6-foot quarterback from Christian Academy of Knoxville took the initial step in chasing down a goal of one day playing for the Vols.
The record-setting High, a two-time Class AA Mr. Football Back (2011-12), never received a scholarship offer from a school on the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
He chose walking on at Tennessee over a scholarship offer from Tennessee Tech, a Football Championship Subdivision program located in Cookeville.
This only will give High more motivation, he said, to earn his scholarship spot at Tennessee.
"I want to get a scholarship. That's my dream. That's my goal, and I have a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong," said High. "Even though I'm 6 feet (tall), I can still get the job done."
High made an unofficial visit to Tennessee on Saturday. He alerted first-year coach Butch Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian that he would accept the invitation. In speaking with the coaches, High found many similarities between what Tennessee's new offense will look like and the offense he ran at CAK that led to him setting two national records and 14 combined TSSAA records for a single season, a career and a championship game.
"(Tennessee coaches) straight-up told me that if I walked on, they'd give me a true shot at it, and I believed them. I decided to walk on at UT," said High. "(Offensive) terminology will be different. But the concepts and what they're trying to do will be similar.
"I don't think it'll be a huge dramatic change at what they're trying to do and what we tried to do at CAK."
At Tennessee, High will return to the bottom of the totem pole. Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman will compete for the vacant starting quarterback job, which junior Tyler Bray abandoned when he declared for this year's NFL draft. Tennessee also has a commitment from Riley Ferguson, a 6-3 quarterback from Matthews, N.C.
Tennessee also is actively seeking to land one more quarterback for its 2013 signing class.
"It's going to be weird not being the guy," said High. "It's like freshman year all over again."
So while High may start near the bottom of the depth chart, he's ascended one before. In a spot start as a sophomore at CAK during the 2010 season, High gave a flash of glory to come. He threw for 451 yards and six touchdowns. High finished his career 28-3 as a starter with two Class 3A state championship wins (2011-12), two Class 3A BlueCross Bowl MVP awards and two PrepXtra Offensive Player of the Year awards from the News Sentinel.
He completed 74.4 percent of his 1,040 attempts for 10,978 yards and 131 touchdowns. He was intercepted 22 times. His career completion percentage was recognized as an official national record for high school football by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), as was his single-season mark (minimum: 275 attempts) from 2012 of 76.2 percent (378 of 496).
Getting used to the speed of college football is the No. 1 concern for High, and he's aware he must adjust.
"It's a huge step from high school," he said. "Like (CAK) Coach (Rusty) Bradley said, it's like me throwing against Alcoa — but on steroids. It's going to take a little while to get used to, but I think I'll be good with it."
High's CAK teammates, receiver Josh Smith and offensive lineman Brett Kendrick, are expected to sign National Letters of Intent with Tennessee on Wednesday. Should High decide somewhere down the road that the Tennessee dream just isn't for him, High said Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown assured him there would be a spot on the roster just for him.
"I'm going to do my best (at Tennessee). I'm going to try," said High. "And if it doesn't work out, I can always go down to I-AA. Coach Brown said he'd love to have me, even if I went to UT and decided to transfer. He said he'd be OK with that.
"I didn't want to go to Tennessee Tech and always wonder, 'What if I went to UT? What if I tried that?'"