Walker Valley High School, which calls Cleveland, Tennessee its home, is just over an hour away from the campus of the University of Tennessee. So it should come as no surprise that Cooper Melton, one of the newest additions to Tennessee’s 2017 roster, grew up a Tennessee fan.
“Growing up, we always went to UT games,” said Melton, who announced last week he would be a preferred walk-on wide receiver for the Vols. “I grew up a Vol fan and watched all the old 90s tapes. Dad always had seasons tickets and took us to as many games as he could. My brother goes there as well.
“I have orange and white checkerboard wallpaper up in my room too. So I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to come play for Tennessee when the opportunity came calling.”
Melton grew up idolizing Vols such as Eric Berry and Robert Meachem and tried to model himself after players like Joey Kent and Peerless Price he saw on those tapes about the 90s Vols. So it surprised no one who knew Melton when he announced his commitment to Tennessee via Twitter on January 18th. The senior out of Cleveland, TN decided against taking a scholarship offer from another school and chose instead to be a preferred walk-on for the Vols.
Melton entered his senior season at Walker Valley without a single scholarship offer. Then he had his breakout campaign, hauling in 61 receptions for 1,123 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games in his final year of high school. Melton had 85 catches for 1,158 yards combined in his first three years of high school.
The 6-foot-3 receiver claimed he “pressed too much” his first three years of high school, and that led to him not living up to the potential he saw in himself.
“This area doesn’t get recruited a ton,” Melton stated. “Going into my senior year, I didn’t have any offers, and I stressed that a lot my previous three years. But I just went out there my senior year and said whatever happens will happen and just trusted God.”
His new approach and faith paid off. Tennessee Tech offered him a partial scholarship, and both the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and Duke showed interest in him his senior season.
Ultimately, however, Melton chose to walk on at Tennessee.
“I feel like I can play at that level,” Melton said. “I know that’s strange to say as a walk-on, but if I felt like I could play at that level, then why not?”
The life of a walk-on isn’t easy, though. Rarely do walk-ons get meaningful snaps in games, and they usually stay on practice teams and usually don’t crack the two-deep depth chart. Melton says understands that, though. “Coaches are more careful who they give a scholarship to and who they give a full ride to,” Melton stated. “As a walk-on, you’re going to have to earn it.”
So far, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni has been the main person who’s contacted Melton since he announced his commitment to the Vols. But Melton wants to reach out to rising senior linebacker Colton Jumper as well because he “was a walk-on from this area as well, and he’s done pretty well there this season” according to Melton.
Melton doesn’t expect his life as a walk-on at Tennessee to be easy, but he says he’s ready for the challenge and will do whatever it takes to make an impact for the Vols.
“It’s Tennessee, so they’re going to put the best on the field no matter what,” Melton stated. “I’m going to have to earn it. I’m going to bring it each and every day.
“Even if I have to redshirt or come in my first year and play, I’ll do what I have to do.”