published Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Tennessee Vols showing early interest to McCallie's Craig

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    Tennessee is showing an early interest in McCallie quarterback JaVaughn Craig (3).
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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KNOXVILLE — Like many young quarterbacks around the country, JaVaughn Craig has watched episodes of Jon Gruden's "Gruden's QB Camp" on ESPN, where the former Super Bowl-winning coach and current Monday Night Football analyst interviews, critiques and instructs quarterbacks heading into the NFL draft.

The McCallie School quarterback, a rising junior, actually got to live out the television show last weekend.

Craig was on Tennessee's campus last weekend for the Volunteers' quarterback camp, and Gruden was in Knoxville for the weekend as second-year coach Butch Jones's special guest and spoke to the team on Friday night before taking part in Saturday's camp at Neyland Stadium.

"It was very cool," Craig said by phone Tuesday night. "It was a unique situation, because just the day before I was going back through and watching the draft academy and then some of the things he did with Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and all the other elite quarterbacks that went into the draft.

"Just knowing that I was going to be coached by him, it just gave me a boost or a sense of motivation and inspiration to do my best, and knowing that he corrected me on a few of the mistakes that I made during the camp and told me that I will be an elite prospect and I will be an elite quarterback one day, that meant a lot.

"It helps me work harder and keep moving forward every day."

Fresh off a breakout sophomore season with the Blue Tornado, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Craig is starting to see his recruitment crank up, though signing day in 2016 is still nearly 20 months away.

After entering the season as McCallie's emergency quarterback, Craig accounted for 381 yards of offense and four touchdowns in a 55-35 win at Cleveland to open the 2013 season.

He finished the regular season with nearly 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns passing with 573 yards and 11 more scores on the ground before suffering an injury early in McCallie's playoff opener.

Yet to receive his first verbal scholarship offer, Craig said he's receiving interest from Tennessee, Auburn, Mississippi State, Louisville, Penn State, Vanderbilt and UT Chattanooga. He's scheduled to attend a camp at Florida later this summer.

After camping with the Vols over the weekend, Craig planned to attend today's Vols' camp and talk more about his recruitment with Tennessee's coaches while on campus.

Craig has been to Tennessee games in the past, but he admitted going as a recruit "hoping that one day you'll be able to play at Tennessee" is a very different experience.

"It was really nice," he said of his weekend visit. "I got to compete against a lot of quarterbacks -- there was 150 quarterbacks there -- and I got picked as one of the elite quarterbacks, which was an honor and a blessing. I got to see all of the equipment room, the inside facilities, the meeting room, which was nice.

"Just being out with the coaches, talking with them, it felt really good, and knowing that they're recruiting me as hard as they are is good to know when you don't even know it at the time. They showed me a lot of love at Tennessee, and right now I'm just taking it day by day.

"It was fun with Coach Gruden. He got on to me a couple of times, and just being coached by one of the greats is an honor. There's no place better than Tennessee."

With his recruitment in its early stages and two years of high school left, Craig is "waiting patiently" for his first offer while "trying to embrace every moment of it," but he conceded taking things slowly amid increasing attention from some big-name programs can be tricky to handle.

"I talk to my mom and dad about it," he said. "I sit down and talk to them every day, and knowing that I'm just going to be a junior and I'm already having all this attention from elite programs at the collegiate level, just thinking about is like, 'Dang, this is crazy.'

"What's even more special is knowing last year was my first year since I was 11 even touching the field, and knowing that I have two more years is pretty unique. I think that's what a lot of colleges see, is that I'm just now going into my junior year. I still have two more years to progress as a quarterback and still become a better quarterback on and off the field.

"It's just special right now, and I'm trying to take it as slow as I can, but it gets me anxious and start wanting to rush it. But I have to remind myself what the goal is and what I need to do."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

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 ...

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