Brendan Downs was sure he'd play football at Duke - until Tennessee came calling.
"Duke's a great place. I love it there. It just seemed like a great place," said Downs, who committed to be a Blue Devil in March. "But at the time, I never knew Tennessee would come knocking."
Now, the in-state Vols are knocking hard for the News Sentinel's seventh-best prospect in the state. An initial call to Downs' coach turned into a visit to Tennessee High School in Bristol by UT offensive coordinator Jim Chaney during the spring evaluation period.
That trip turned into a UT scholarship offer a week later. Downs was duly impressed and visited UT's campus Tuesday.
Downs met with academic advisors, toured the campus, met with first-year coach Derek Dooley and had a late lunch with Chaney.
"They really made it known what they expect out of their tight ends," the 6-foot-6, 230-pounder said. "It's a position of need. That's what they were really stressing to me."
Luke Stocker is the only tight end UT has on its roster with SEC experience. Moreover, Dooley has expressed a desire to eventually feature a two-tight-end system.
Fortunately for the Vols, there are two highly rated tight end prospects in the state: Downs and Cameron Clear from Central High School in Memphis.
UT seems to be in good shape with Downs even though he said he still considers himself a Duke commitment.
"Yeah I do, but I'm not ruling Tennessee out, for sure," Downs said.
Downs grew up a UT fan and said his recruitment is a two-team race between the Blue Devils and Vols despite scholarship offers from Virginia, Maryland, Baylor, Mississippi State and Memphis.
"I've been a Tennessee fan all my life," he said. "I remember as a little kid I would watch all the games."
Downs said he's pleased with his ability to block and catch passes. He said he still needs to work on avoiding defenders after the catch.
That should improve with more repetitions. Downs' pass receiving was barely a factor in Tennessee High's mostly ground-based offense until midway through the season. He then caught 10 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
His offensive role likely will expand this fall, and he is slated to play some snaps at defensive end.
Despite the lackluster stat line, UT's coaches have told him they're impressed.
"They say they like that I have all the tools to be a great tight end," Downs said. "They said they also like the fact that I'm a well-rounded kid, that I'm smart and I have a good GPA. They said they're trying to get more kids like that in the program."
UT also is trying to get Downs' teammate, offensive lineman Mack Crowder.
Crowder also is evaluating a scholarship offer from UT.
"That would be great," Downs said of playing with Crowder in college, "but we know we've both got to feel real good about our decision. It would be great to end up at the same place because we're real good friends."
Downs said he called Duke's coaches, led by former UT assistant coach David Cutcliffe, to let them know he was visiting Knoxville.
"They understood," Downs said.
That remains to be seen.
There was a time when Duke seemed a likely destination for the duo from Tennessee High. Now, Knoxville seems a much stronger possibility.
That decision, however, might not come any time soon.
"I have until February," Downs said, "so I'm just going to see how things go."