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Four-Star Edge Rusher Drops Top Four, Talks Tennessee Recruitment

Tennessee has made the cut in the latest top four from hybrid linebacker/defensive end James Heard Jr.

According to a Twitter post on Wednesday, Heard has chosen a top four consisting of Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia.

On3 Sports’ consensus rankings have Heard listed as a three-star recruit in the class. Rivals’ individual rankings, however, have Heard as a four-star recruit.

247 Sports and On3 have Heard listed as a linebacker with Rivals listing him as a weakside defensive end. Heard is familiar with both positions though after playing both in high school. After originally starting his career on the line, Heard has dropped back as a linebacker in recent seasons. His game is from the edge position, though.

Donning the number six for St. Joseph’s Prep School in Philadelphia, it’s hard not to be reminded of Tennessee defensive end Byron Young while watching Heard’s film. Both players have the innate ability to rush and get after the quarterback, yet both players also have the ability to drop back into coverage. Heard even has an interception on his tape that looks eerily similar to Young’s interception against Purdue in the Music City Bowl. Roman Harrison is another type of player that Heard’s game somewhat resembles in its early stages.

See Also from RTI: Tennessee Tight End Enters Transfer Portal

“I would say Tennessee made the shortlist because I love the coaches,” Heard said in an interview with Rivals this week. “I love coach Ekeler, I love coach Caprice, I mean, they’re my guys. Kinda talk a lot and built a great connection over the last few months. And I love the environment down there when I visited Tennessee.”

“I’ll say how they use the edge rushers,” Heard said about what impresses him about Tennessee in the interview. “They get after the quarterback, they play fast and hard at all times. They want to see the edge rushers make the sacks.”

The 6-foot-2, 218-pound defensive player originally played his high school ball in Voorhees, N.J. before transferring to St. Joesphs Prep School in Philadelphia for his junior season in 2021.

Throughout his recruitment, James Heard Jr. has hauled in 15 scholarship offers, including from Ole Miss and Texas A&M. However, after his announcement on Wednesday, Heard’s list has been trimmed to four.

Heard did have a chance to visit Knoxville back in early March. In addition, Heard has taken visits to both Kentucky and West Virginia and plans to visit Virginia in May.

“It seemed like Tennessee had the momentum earlier in the process but West Virginia’s persistence could be paying off,” Rivals’ National Recruiting Analyst Adam Friedman wrote this week. “The Mountaineers already hold a commitment from Heard’s teammate, four-star Josiah Trotter, and they’re hoping Heard jumps onboard. Kentucky is right there near the top as well but they do have some ground to make up. Virginia is in a similar position and they need to get Heard on campus before they can be considered a legitimate landing spot for him.”

According to On3 Sports’ Recruiting Prediction Machine, West Virginia does lead the way at 41.4 percent with the Volunteers back at just 10.1 percent. In addition, West Virginia also has a commitment already from Heard’s teammate, Josiah Trotter, a highly-ranked linebacker in the class of 2023.

Heard concluded his interview with Rivals by saying that he is in group chats for all four of his final schools that are filled with other recruits. The top four for James Heard Jr. are Tennessee, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Heard also said that while there is no commitment date set just yet, he does planning on making his decision before his senior football season starts in the fall.

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