After Whitehaven High School shut out Cordova High School on Friday night, linebacker/safety Tamarion McDonald got a call he had been hoping to get.
Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt was in attendance for Whitehaven’s contest against Cordova to see McDonald and his two teammates, linebackers Martavius French and Bryson Eason. Both French and Eason already held offers from UT, but McDonald had yet to pick up an offer from the Vols.
That changed on Friday night.
“They called me after the game (and gave an offer),” McDonald told me in a recent interview. “Friday, earlier in the day, they came by the school and was telling me they were gonna watch me at the game and how they want all three of us.”
McDonald, who committed to Mississippi State back in May, says he, French, and Eason have all talked about playing in college together for quite a while. “We still do to this day,” he told me. But there are only a select few schools that have offered the Whitehaven trio, and the Vols are now one of them.
Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU, Georgia Tech, and now Tennessee are the only schools to offer all three of the talented defenders from Whitehaven. McDonald is already committed to the Bulldogs of Mississippi State, and French committed to Arkansas back in July. Eason is the only one of the three who has yet to commit to a school.
The three Whitehaven defenders have known each other since they were little. McDonald says all three started playing Little League together when they were six, and they’ve been friends ever since.
Time will tell if all three end up playing football together in college, but they have that opportunity at Tennessee now.
Despite being committed to Mississippi State for months, McDonald has continued to show interest to the Vols. His trip to UT’s campus on June, less than a month after his commitment to the Bulldogs, was his first visit to Tennessee. And it opened his eyes to what the Vols have to offer.
“I’ve just been texting them for a minute now. They were showing interest. Then we went down there and visited there, and I loved it,” McDonald said. “They took me into their office, told me they liked me, and stuff like that. They liked my size, told me they were gonna be watching me this season. It looked like that was true, because after the game is when they offered.
“It was just real cool. I was comfortable there.”
But McDonald hasn’t just been relying on his own experiences with Tennessee; he’s heard all about the Vols from a former teammate who was on UT’s roster.
Melvin McBride signed with Tennessee in the 2019 class, but due to unfortunate health circumstances, was never able to see the field for the Vols. The former Whitehaven offensive lineman medically retired before the start of fall camp at Tennessee, but he’s had nothing but positive things to say about UT to McDonald.
“Melvin was telling us how good they treated him, how they make sure you’re okay,” McDonald stated. “That’s coming from a person I can trust. That made me like them even more.”
McDonald says it’s important to him to find out from every school he’s interested in how they treat their current players. Recruiting can sell a lot of promises, but McDonald knows it’s a different story once a player gets on campus.
“I like talking to the players to see how (schools) treat their players because that’s really what matters the most,” McDonald said. “They can tell you a lot of different stuff when they recruit you, but when you get there, it’s a whole different story. So I just like talking to the player and asking him how they got treated.”
When McDonald committed to Mississippi State back in May, he did so because “it felt like a family” and because of the early playing time the Bulldogs offer. The Bulldogs will be graduating several linebackers and defenders in general after the 2019 season, and there’s the potential a few more could go pro early as well. That opportunity to come in and prove himself immediately is appealing to McDonald.
“If I come in with the right head, I can play there,” he said of Mississippi State.
Though he’s listed as a linebacker by most recruiting services, McDonald sees himself more as a nickelback in college. And that’s also the position the Vols are selling him as well.
“I want to play nickel because you get a little bit of action in the passing game and you’ll be able to challenge (in the run game),” McDonald said. “So I like to play nickel, but I also will play anything that gets me on the field.”
For Whitehaven, McDonald plays a variety of roles on defense and even plays on offense for the Tigers. On Friday, he and his defensive teammates helped Whitehaven shut out Cordova, marking the third time this season the Tigers have shut out an opponent. In fact, Whitehaven is only giving up an average of five points per game through the first six weeks of the season.
“We play for each other, not for ourselves,” McDonald said of his teammates. “We want to see everybody eat.”
McDonald has been doing plenty of “eating” himself this season. Through the first five games of the season, the senior had totaled 18 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a fumble recover on defense. On offense, he’s caught five passes for 90 yards and two scores.
“I notice plays before they happen,” McDonald said of his biggest strength in his game. “I also like my speed and strength. I’d like to improve both of those when I go to college, though, and I know that’s going to happen.”
Mississippi State is the school slated to get McDonald’s speed, strength and IQ in college. But there’s still plenty of time between now and when McDonald has to officially sign, and he, French, and Eason will all likely discuss their football futures plenty between now and then.