College football fans who thought the threat of Tennessee raiding Georgia for talent left when Lane Kiffin and his traveling circus pulled up stakes for California are finding out differently.
New coach Derek Dooley struck again on Thursday as Rajion Neal, a tremendously productive running back from Sandy Creek High School, committed to the Vols. That came a day after Neal had decommitted to Mississippi State, to which he had been committed all last season. He made an official visit to Rocky Top last weekend.
Neal confirmed his Tennessee commitment via text message but declined further comment. But Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker was happy to talk on Neal’s behalf.
“I think Rajion is going to be a great back in the SEC. I really do,” Walker said. “The offense they’re going to run is very similar to what we do. He had a good feel for Coach Dooley and just felt very comfortable and wanted up there.”
The Vols also got Calhoun quarterback Nash Nance to flip from Vanderbilt on Thursday and retained offensive tackle JaWuan James (North Gwinnett) and defensive back Marques Dixon (Southwest DeKalb) through the coaching transition.
Neal puts up a good statistical argument for being considered the best back in Greater Atlanta. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound runner led the Fighting Patriots with 1,812 yards rushing and 35 touchdowns, 33 of them rushing. He had more 2,500 all-purpose yards and averaged 42 yards on kickoff returns.
“To me, I don’t think there’s any doubt he’s the best back in Georgia,” Walker said.
The toughest part for Neal, Walker said, was having to call Mississippi State to tell them he’d had a change of heart.
“That’s not anything you ever want to do,” Walker said. “Mississippi State did a great job with him. Those guys are building a great program out there. Rajion just thought Tennessee was a better fit.”