Eric Parker could hardly believe who was on the other end of the line.
When the Cleveland High School track standout was nearly ready to sign with Western Kentucky, Parker's dream school came sweeping in.
"When UT called me last Thursday, it freaked me out a little bit," Parker said earlier this week. "I have always looked up to that team, and (the University of Tennessee's) Tom Black Track is by far my favorite track. It's a great feeling to know one day I will run for them on that track."
With Parker's commitment, the Volunteers have landed an elite speedster who specializes in hurdles. He recently set a school record in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 13.84 seconds. That's second in the state to Arts & Sciences junior Brevin Sims, whose 13.68 is fifth-fastest nationally for a high school runner this year.
Parker and Sims both have a strong chance of breaking the TSSAA boys' track and field championship meet's record time of 13.79, set by Memphis University School's Harrison Williams in 2014. This spring represents the last shot at the mark for Parker, a senior who expects to be running against Southeastern Conference competition a year from now.
The Vols have won four NCAA team titles in track and field (three outdoors, one indoors), and there is also a strong individual legacy for Parker to chase once he gets to Knoxville. Aries Merritt set the program's 110 hurdles record at 13.22 in 2006, and it was an SEC meet record until 2018, when Florida's Grant Holloway posted a time of 13.15.
"Tennessee and the SEC only goes after athletes they think can be superstars," Cleveland assistant coach Lonnie White said. "Eric has trusted the process from the start. His final high school goal is to sweep the hurdles (110 and 300) at state this year."
Parker appears ready to take the torch from from former teammate Benjedi Casseus, who won the state's Large Classification 110 hurdles title the past two seasons. The Large Class state meet is May 22-23 at Middle Tennessee State, and Parker will try to qualify for it during a sectional meet Saturday at Rhea County.
As he does, he'll remember why he runs.
"My grandmother is my inspiration," Parker said. "I didn't take track as serious until after she passed. My dad explained to me how she used to run track and how important it was to her. I adopted this sport from her and ran with it."
Parker, who also hopes to compete for state titles and set personal records in the triple jump and the 4x400 relay, hopes for a grand send-off with Cleveland. The Blue Raiders finished runners-up to state champion Brentwood by four points last year, and those programs appear to be top contenders for the title again.
Parker will do his best to help Cleveland come out on top this time.
"I feel like I am hitting the goals I am reaching for," he said. "I want to set some more PR's. I am going to go out and run faster and harder every time."