KNOXVILLE — Jalen Reeves-Maybin is ready to begin his University of Tennessee career.
The athlete from Clarksville, Tenn., will have to wait to begin the football part of it, however.
One of five early enrollees who moved to campus over the weekend and will begin spring-semester classes today, the four-star prospect likely will play safety for the Volunteers after he recovers from Friday's surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
"I've just got to get this surgery and rehab hard and try to come back and try to get healthy and try to get back as fast as I can," Reeves-Maybin said during the weekend as he packed to move to Knoxville.
While the recruiting class changed around him as the Vols' program transitioned to new coach Butch Jones, Reeves-Maybin remained solid. After committing to the Vols in early August, Reeves-Maybin was a fixture at Tennessee home games this season. He admitted there were some nervy moments during the coaching search with the start of his college career quickly approaching.
"It wasn't too much worry," he said. "I started worrying the last two days of the coaching search, but besides that I never really wavered from it."
When Jones was hired, the first stop he made on the recruiting trail was an in-home visit with Reeves-Maybin.
"It was great," the player said. "He stayed here for like two hours. We just talked, and I really was trying to get a feel for him. Then [secondary coach Willie] Martinez came by, so basically I was just trying to get a feel for them and see what they thought about me.
"I didn't know too much about [Jones]. I had talked to him before because he recruited me at Cincinnati, but I didn't really look anything up about him or study him or anything. I like the coaching staff, I like Coach Jones and I think they'll be able to turn the program and get back to winning."
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder will have to wait to begin making his own contributions to the effort. Reeves-Maybin said Friday's surgery, to repair an injury suffered midway through his senior season, will sideline him for five months. He'll miss most of the Vols' first winter workout program under new strength coach Dave Lawson and likely be limited during spring practice.
Given the toughness Reeves-Maybin showed in playing through the injury for so long, a return before that five-month timetable certainly is a possibility.
"I was always playing my senior year," he said. "I didn't care if my shoulder was torn or whatever. I knew it was something I couldn't get back, so I wasn't about to miss it.
"I was actually going to get [surgery] done earlier, but I decided to push it back to now."
Reeves-Maybin led his Northeast High School team to the Class 5A state semifinals, where it fell in a shootout to Beech and five-star junior tailback Jalen Hurd. He ran for more than 300 yards and scored five touchdowns at quarterback and made more than 20 tackles on defense in the game. Reeves-Maybin ran for more than 1,000 yards in three playoff games.
His strong sophomore and juniors seasons — 1,000-plus rushing yards in 2010 and 46 total touchdowns in 2011 — increased his recruiting profile. Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Louisville and others offered him scholarships. In July, he was invited to The Opening, where a group of top recruits participated in a four-day competition involving combine events and 7-on-7 tournaments.
Now he's getting his Tennessee career under way.
"I'm just excited and ready to start something new," he said. "I'm just ready to start making my name as a Volunteer."
Here's a look at the four other players expected to enroll early for the Vols:
• Corey Vereen is a 6-2, 235-pound linebacker from West Orange High School in Winter Park, Fla., who committed to the Vols in March. Vereen held scholarship offers from Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, South Florida and Ole Miss, among others. He posted a video on YouTube last week of him playing "Rocky Top" on his guitar.
• Three-star defensive back Lemond Johnson committed to Auburn in June, but the Tigers' coaching change prompted the 5-11, 190-pounder from Cooper City High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to look around. Due to his previous relationship with Coach Martinez, Johnson made an official visit to Tennessee in mid-December and committed shortly thereafter. Among others offering scholarships were LSU, Vanderbilt, South Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina State.
• After beginning his college career at Georgia Southern, cornerback Riyahd Jones signed with Tennessee in December out of Garden City (Kan.) Community College. The 6-foot, 186-pound Columbus (Ga.) Carver High School graduate started seven games for GSU in 2011 before transferring. The three-star prospect, who had scholarship offers from Mississippi State, Kentucky, Ole Miss, West Virginia and others, will start his Tennessee career as a true junior.
• A four-star prospect according to Rivals.com, receiver Paul Harris from Frederick Douglass High School near Washington, D.C., picked the Vols in July and remained solid despite late interest from Oregon. The 6-4, 195-pound wideout also had offers from South Carolina, Mississippi State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Virginia Tech and Southern California, among others. Harris also participated in The Opening and last month played in the Chesapeake Bowl, a premier regional all-star game.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...