Eddrick Loften has already seen a packed house at Tennessee. It just wasn't Neyland Stadium.
Loften, on his penultimate official visit during his recruitment, was one of 20,714 fans on edge at Thompson-Boling Arena during the Vols' 71-69 victory over Ole Miss. A little more than two weeks later, Loften, a four-star safety from Irving, Texas, signed with the Vols in hopes of playing in front of more than 100,000 people as soon as September.
His weekend trip for tonight's game against Alabama, though, will mark the first time Loften has set foot in Knoxville since that trip in January. Loften, after a long and grueling wait from the NCAA Clearinghouse, was ruled ineligible in August for the 2010 season because of a test score that was deemed fishy, and later resulted in one that came up 30 points short.
"It's frustrating, knowing that I could be there and I should be there," Loften said. "It's frustrating every time I turn on the TV and see some of my friends playing on TV that went off to college."
Loften, rated the 14th-best safety in the nation and 25th-best player in Texas for the class of 2010 by Rivals.com, will be one of UT's three official visitors this weekend. If his latest test score, which is expected to be released in a matter of weeks, is good enough to qualify, he'll enroll at UT in January. He's heard from other schools, including TCU and SMU, but has remained committed to the Vols.
"They're sticking with me so I said I was going to stick with them," Loften said. "The whole community is great and it's a football town down there. It's about the football."
Loften's life has been everything but football since he received the bad news in August. This marks his first fall without playing some kind of organized football since he was seven.
Loften said he's kept his routine simple over the past few months. Wake up, work out, study, play video games, go to bed, repeat.
"I got a lot of time on my hands down here since I'm out of school," Loften said. "Most of the time is free time. That's about it."
Though he's not in "football shape," Loften assured that he has at least maintained the body that allowed him to amass 128 tackles (35 solos), four interceptions, 10 pass-break-ups and one fumble recovery as a senior. Loften said he works out with former San Francisco 49er linebacker Chet Brooks, a friend of his father's who started in Super Bowl XXIV.
"Me and Chet are doing drills and everything," Loften said. "Getting my feetwork and getting me in the best shape for me to come down there."
Loften said he primarily used online teaching tools to prepare for his latest attempt at the SAT, which he's confident will result in a score that will eventually allow him to stay in Knoxville longer than a weekend.
"I kind of feel like I should be part of the team," Loften said. "I should have been there in May or June."
Picking Up the Tab: Cornerback Justin Coleman (Brunswick, Ga.), who committed to UT in July, and four-star running back Brendon Bigelow (Fresno, Calif.), a soft verbal commitment with Washington, will also be on campus for official visits this weekend.
Bigelow, who has undergone two knee surgeries in his high school career, is considered the sixth-best running back in the nation, third-best player in California and 32nd-best player overall in the Class of 2011 by Rivals.com. He's received interest from schools around the country and will continue to make visits elsewhere despite his commitment to the Huskies.
Though Brunswick High head coach Victor Floyd continues to receive calls from "tons of schools," Coleman said he's largely shut down his recruitment. He said he plans to enroll at UT for the winter semester, which makes him eligible to participate in spring football.
"I hope I can make more friends and everything," Coleman said. "I'm going to tell them Tennessee is the right place to be."
In the Clear?: UT commitment Tino Thomas, an athlete from Melrose High in Memphis, will be one of a number of unofficial visitors on campus this weekend.
If all goes as planned, Thomas said, he will carpool to Knoxville with one of UT's top targets, four-star offensive tackle Cameron Clear, who plays 10 minutes down the street at Central High.
Clear, who can also play tight end, is ranked the second-best prospect in the state of Tennessee behind Nashville offensive lineman Antonio Richardson, and is considered the nation's 18th-best offensive tackle prospect by Rivals.com.
Two Carver High (Columbus, Ga.) teammates, four-star defensive tackle Gabe Wright and five-star running back Isaiah Crowell, are also expected to be in town this weekend on unofficial visits. Both remain uncommitted, but Wright told the News Sentinel that he's narrowed his choices to Auburn and Tennessee, while Crowell has told numerous scouting services that he's choosing between Alabama and Georgia.
Andrew Gribble can be reached at 865-342-6327.