Caleb Herring and Arion Carter are linebackers at Tennessee who are practicing this spring as midyear enrollees.
Their respective careers have yet to be written in Knoxville, but they are already being recognized as a four-star duo that got Volunteers recruiting back into the Volunteer State. Herring and Carter were the state's top two prospects in the 2023 signing cycle, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings.
"Tennessee is big on in-state guys, and they want to keep you in-state," Herring said this week in a news conference. "You can clearly see that this year with some of the top guys."
Herring, a 6-foot-5, 226-pound edge rusher out of Murfreesboro Riverdale, committed to the Vols last April, essentially assuring coach Josh Heupel that he would not have to endure another year of struggles within state borders. Tennessee's program unraveled in January 2021, when former coach Jeremy Pruitt and linebacker coaches Shelton Felton and Brian Niedermeyer were terminated amid university and NCAA investigations into recruiting violations.
Multiple marquee players left the program through the transfer portal, and even Heupel's 7-6 debut season later that year couldn't keep the premier recruits home. Tennessee did not land one top-10 talent from within its state during the 2022 signing cycle, with Powell defensive lineman Walter Nolen picking Texas A&M, Martin quarterback Ty Simpson choosing Alabama and Nashville Pearl-Cohn receiver Barion Brown opting for Kentucky.
"The players inside this state heard all of the noise for the two-and-a-half months before I got here and all the noise previously as well," Heupel said in December of 2021. "With COVID, we didn't get them on campus right away, so in some ways I think it was harder in-state than out of state this year."
Herring said the change in command was all it took for him to join his older brother Elijah, who played in all 13 games for last season's 11-2 Orange Bowl champions as a freshman.
"Before Coach Heup came, it was iffy because of everything that went down," Herring said. "When I saw that Coach Heup was coming, I knew that this program was going to get turned around. Seeing all the success he had at UCF, I knew he was going to bring it to the SEC, because he would have better talent."
Herring, who went through the bowl practices at 205 pounds and has a goal of 240 by the Sept. 2 season opener against Virginia in Nashville, wasn't accompanied on the commitment front by Carter until December. Carter, a 6-1, 221-pounder from Smyrna, selected Tennessee over Alabama and Ohio State.
"You definitely get a home-like environment," Carter said this week. "It is home to me. I have family that live here, so it was the benefit of having family close by and not being so homesick. I know I have a support staff here helping me.
"I couldn't have picked a better place."
Tennessee already has a commitment from the state's top 2024 recruit, landing a nonbinding pledge from Lipscomb Academy cornerback Kaleb Beasley in October. The Vols also have commitments from Bradley Central defensive back Marcus Goree Jr. and McCallie School defensive lineman Carson Gentle, who are ranked eighth and 24th respectively within the state by 247Sports.
There are more who certainly could be in store for the Vols, and it will be Herring and Carter who likely will be credited for getting the in-state ball rolling again.
"Just seeing what Coach Heup has done in a short amount of time -- I committed because of the direction I saw that this program was going in," Herring said.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org.