GALLATIN, Tenn. — Several months ago, Josh Malone admittedly didn’t believe he would find himself standing in the Station Camp High School gymnasium Wednesday wearing a Tennessee hat.
Top247 senior wide receiver Josh Malone of Station Camp High School in Gallatin, Tenn., committed to Tennessee on Wednesday, choosing the Vols over Clemson.
But a long, winding recruiting process ultimately took him right back to the school that started it.
The Top247 senior wide receiver announced his commitment to the Vols on Wednesday during a nationally televised ceremony at his school, adding another of the state’s top prospects to Tennessee’s impressive 2014 recruiting class more than 20 months after the Vols extended his first scholarship offer.
Malone, who plans to enroll at Tennessee in January, said he chose Tennessee over Clemson because he believes the Vols offer a “better opportunity” for him to make an immediate impact.
“Really, it was just who was going to prepare me better for the future where I can just grow as a person and become a young man,” said Malone, who’s ranked the nation’s No. 45 overall player and No. 5 wide receiver in the 247Sports Composite, which equally weighs prospect rankings and ratings from major recruiting media outlets.
“I feel like I can come in and start right away. I’ll go through some growing pains like every freshman, but I feel like I can come in, start right away and make an impact. I feel confident in my skill level, and I feel confident in Coach ‘Z’ (Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni) just to get me ready for Week 1.
“And also coming in, in January, that’s a big factor, and I’ll get to get in and really get most of the growing pains out of the way.”
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Malone gave first-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones’ staff its 33rd known commitment for the 2014 class and its fourth from a potential wide receiver, joining four-star, junior-college prospect Lavon Pearson and three-star athletes Vic Wharton and Neiko Creamer.
“Just the whole, entire coaching change (at Tennessee last year) and all that, I was like, ‘Well, I might be going somewhere else,’” Malone said, referring to Jones’ hiring last year to replace former coach Derek Dooley.
Malone is ranked the nation's No. 44 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
“But they came after me and really made me a priority.”
He said the Jones, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen and Azzanni ultimately won him over by making him a high priority over the past several months.
“They were really persistent, and they really kept in contact with me almost every day,” Malone said. “Really, Jones told me from the beginning that he wanted to earn my trust, and he earned it. ... Coach Thig’, hey, he’s a great dude, funny dude and really a great guy. He’s really a good recruiter.”
Malone took official visits to Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio State, Florida State and Clemson over the past three months. He signed financial-aid agreements last month with four of those teams — Tennessee, Georgia, Florida State and Clemson — allowing each of his finalists to enjoy unlimited contact with him leading up to his decision.
“It’s been close, and, really, the real close ones were Clemson and Tennessee that really separated themselves at the end,” he said. “Honestly, they both came up with good things, and they both really made me a priority. I just felt more comfortable at Tennessee.”
He said he didn’t confirm his decision until Tuesday night after hosting coaches from Clemson and Tennessee on Monday for their final in-home visits.
“I really confirmed it at, like, 6 o’clock last night, because I had all the home visits come through, and they gave me a lot to think about,” Malone said. “And I re-evaluated everything and came up with Tennessee.”
Malone said he didn’t inform Jones and the rest of the Vols’ coaches of his decision before announcing it.
“Honestly, I haven’t even told them yet,” he said. “When I was getting up (from the table after the announcement), Coach Jones sent me a text message. I’m pretty sure they’re going crazy right now. I’m looking forward to calling him after all this.”