Tennessee picked up a very late addition to their 2018 roster last week when three-star athlete Reggie James announced on Twitter that he was committing to the Vols and would be joining them as a preferred walk-on. At one point, James held scholarship offers from Purdue, Georgia Southern, Colorado State, Louisiana Tech, and many other schools.
So how did the 6-foot-3, 240-pound athlete from Gainesville, Georgia end up walking on at Tennessee? His journey was a long and winding one.
James suffered an injury during Week 4 of his senior year at Chestatee High School, and that’s where the trouble began.
“I was returning a kickoff and got hit.” James told me in a recent interview. “I tried to run two guys over at the same time. One guy hit my head one way and the other guy hit my shoulder and it was like a stinger, but it stretched the nerve and my arm went numb. I ended up playing the rest of that game, and I sat out one week and played the rest of my season with my shoulder being numb. I couldn’t really feel my arm.
“I think that’s why the healing process took so long because I kept banging it up. But I wasn’t going to sit out my senior season because of it.”
It was after his injury that the bad news started coming in for James. He said schools started to pull their scholarship offers from him because he was supposed to have surgery and faced a long rehab process. Even his top school, Georgia Southern, changed their minds on him.
“I was originally planning on going to Georgia Southern. It’s close to home, and I got real close with their tight end coach,” James said. “I thought I was there, and when I found out they were gonna pull (the scholarship) because of my shoulder injury, it just hurt and I felt betrayed.”
But all was not lost for James. He said that even during his senior year, some bigger programs were reaching out to him. First, it was Miami. They offered him a preferred walk-on spot, then Auburn came calling. And originally, the Tigers were the team he was considering joining as a walk-on. They wanted him to fill Chandler Cox’s role after Cox graduated after this year.
Then, something unexpected happened. James suddenly could feel his shoulder again, and he found out a big surgery and long rehab time wasn’t needed.
He was contacted by Tennessee earlier this year, and he came to Knoxville to get his shoulder checked out to make sure he could play still. Everything came back positive, and that’s when he decided to commit to the Vols.
James can’t join Tennessee immediately, but he’s on track to join the Vols soon.
“I was told right after fall camp because I’m not cleared to practice, so I wouldn’t be able to practice during fall camp,” James explained. “When I get down there, I’m supposed to be on a rehab program and then I’m projected to be cleared in September I believe. My shoulder is healing great right now, which was unexpected.
“I’m just very thankful that everything is working out.”
But what made James choose Tennessee over Auburn, the school he was leaning towards? That decision was because of family.
“My family are big Tennessee fans,” James stated. “My grandmother’s brother had a scholarship to Tennessee, but he died before he was able to play, so I feel like I owe it to him. And I just love the atmosphere.”
Though James has never attended a Tennessee game inside Neyland Stadium, he said he’s “excited” because he’s been told “it’s one of the loudest, craziest football atmospheres.” And Vol fans have already made him feel welcome even though he’s not even in Knoxville yet.
When James announced his decision to join the Vols on Twitter, he received a lot of praise and congratulations from Vol fans. In fact, the outpouring of support was so great that James had to make sure his phone was plugged in so it wouldn’t die.
“I was blown away,” James said of the reaction to his announcement. “The closest thing to that kind of fan base was the Georgia Southern one, and it was nothing as extreme as this. I was looking at my phone and I couldn’t even see my family texting me. My phone blew up constantly, and I had to keep it on a charger. It felt great.”
As for on the field, James could serve a variety of roles for the Vols moving forward.
Tennessee told James they want him to play as a fullback/H-back on offense and he’ll get a look at linebacker on defense as well. In high school, James played a little bit of everything for Chestatee. He saw time at wide receiver, slot, tight end, H-back, and running back on offense. It wasn’t until his senior season that he started playing on defense, and he played inside linebacker and served as a pass rush defensive end as well.
According to James, he doesn’t quite have the height to be a tight end for the Vols. But he plans on playing whatever position he can, and he has plenty of motivation.
“When (the Georgia Southern scholarship) got pulled, it gave me a little more incentive to get back in the weight room and start working out,” James said. “I gained about five pounds of muscle…it just gave me more of a drive to prove. Now I have something I can earn.
“I’m not just given a scholarship now; I have to earn it. It’s a big challenge I have to push for.”