December 20, 2011

Persistence pays off as humble Meredith preps for UA game, UT

Had it been a playoff game with a chance to extend his team's season, tight end Justin Meredith probably would have tested the limits a bit more on the nagging hamstring injury that sidelined him from participating in the 75th annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
But smart --- his offer list included Duke, UNC and Notre Dame, as well as Tennessee and a bevy of other SEC institutions --- as well as athletically gifted and tough, Meredith rested the hamstring as he readies himself for one more high school showcase and the quickly approaching transition to college life. Among the Vols' most recent commitments, Meredith is scheduled to participate in the Under Armour All-American Game next month in Florida and will move to the University of Tennessee campus Jan. 8.

"It's alright. It's getting better," Meredith told VolQuest.com at the Shrine Bowl on the Wofford University campus in Spartanburg, S.C. "Going through recovery three times a day this whole week, it's getting there. I haven't pushed it yet, so I really don't know exactly where it's at. But if it had been a playoff game, I probably would have pushed it before the game to see where it was at."

While Meredith elected to sit out the game and continue his rehab on the hamstring, he did praise the Shrine Bowl experience and the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of younger kids.

"It's been good. But everything we did on the field was for a greater cause, for the children and Shriners. It's been a great experience being able to play for something like that," he said. "It was great. I got hurt early in the week with the hamstring, but the coaches, the players, they all still embraced me as part of the family and I'm thankful for that. And I was very involved with the team throughout the week."

Meredith will arrive in Knoxville early next month to begin his career as a Tennessee Volunteer, and he showed some savvy by connecting with fellow pledge and four-star quarterback Nathan Peterman as his roommate.

While the 6-foot-5, 210-pounder looks forward to expanding all facets of his game, Meredith believes he can transition into an additional downfield weapon in the Vols' offense.

"Right now, my skill-set is more of the receiving part of being a tight end," said Meredith, an unselfish, team-first player who notched more than 40 tackles, including eight for losses, this season as a defensive end. "So I think I'm going to bring that aspect. That's something that they really don't seem to have right now, a tight end that can stretch the field. As my career goes on, I also want to develop physically so that I can be that all-purpose tight end."

A long-time commitment to North Carolina who switched to the Vols on Dec. 10, Meredith credited the consistency of the Tennessee coaching staff in keeping his interest piqued in Rocky Top.

"Well, the number one thing was that I had a good relationship with the coaches, all of the coaches," Meredith said. "Coach Dooley, coach Joseph, coach Russell. All of the coaches. And that was the main thing that always kept me interested in Tennessee. But then just something I really can't explain. It was deep in my heart that I just knew that's where I needed to be."

In fact, though he didn't formally reveal his switch until days later, Meredith said he knew he would be a Vol as soon as Tennessee's coaches wrapped up their in-home visit.

"It was great. Coach Dooley and coach Joseph, it was just kind of reassuring," he said. "Honestly, when they left I pretty much knew, that's where I'm going to school."

But first, Meredith has the high-profile Under Armour All-American Game fast approaching on his itinerary, and he's looking forward to testing the hamstring --- and his skills --- against many of the nation's best prep football players.

"It's going to be great. Everything about it. Getting free stuff and being able to play with some of the guys on my team here at the Shrine Bowl and with some of the North Carolina team and some of the best players in the country," Meredith said. "I've got to get hamstring this ready for the Under Armour All-American Game, and it's getting there [when Meredith will move to Knoxville]. It's quick.

"I'm just going to take it one step at a time. Get this hamstring right and before I know it, I'll be up there."

Though he sacrificed the opportunity for greater personal stats this season at T.L. Hanna High School, Meredith is rated a three-star prospect and a top-six player in the talent-laden state of South Carolina. He picked the Vols from an offer list that swelled to nearly 20 programs across the country. 

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