For a pair of East Tennessee's biggest high school standouts, a pair of All-State honorees among the best in the state of Tennessee, it was music to their ears when new University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones announced during his introductory press conference that Jones wanted to own the Volunteer State's recruiting base.
Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford could hardly contain their enthusiasm. The message was even better when the duo heard Jones' pitch in person during an unofficial visit on Dec. 16 to UT.
"When me and Devaun went up there, Coach Jones really stressed he wanted to win the state," Foreman told VolQuest.com on Saturday. "I really liked that."
So, too, did Swafford.
"Man, I love it. We really didn't hear too much from the last staff but this staff, as soon as we heard they wanted in-state recruits, our eyes got big," Swafford said. "Tennessee's our dream school and we've wanted to play together since we were little."
The dynamic duo from powerhouse Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett took the next step in that progression Friday afternoon and confirmed it to VolQuest.com on Saturday, when both Foreman and Swafford declared their commitments to Jones' Tennessee program.
Foreman had previously been committed to Vanderbilt while Swafford had been mulling various options.
"I'm feeling good; me and Devaun committed to UT (Friday)," said Foreman, a three-star, 5-foot-10, 175-pound athlete. "They (UT's coaches) were really excited and had a lot of energy when we told them. It was fun."
Foreman will officially visit the Vols next month and sign his Letter of Intent Feb. 6, 2013 on national signing day. Swafford accepted a "grayshirt" opportunity from Jones & Co., but he also sees the potential to perhaps earn a scholarship sooner than January 2014. It's why Swafford spent some 90 minutes Saturday afternoon on the turf at D-B, working to hone his footwork and other defensive back skills.
"They offered me a grayshirt and said that there could be an opportunity where they have an open scholarship come August, and if not then I'll enroll in January 2014 and be on full scholarship from there," said Swafford, who emphasized to his prep coaches and during the interview his gratitude and intent to make the most of this opportunity. "I'm going to go in August and if I do good, I'm going to start when everybody else starts and if I do well in practice, then I can have a really good opportunity."
Both Foreman and Swafford, standout two-way players for a D-B team that won its first dozen games, praised the vibe they got from the new coaching staff after their unofficial visit to Rocky Top just before the NCAA-mandated dead period earlier this month.
"We just really liked the coaches when we went down there," Foreman said. "I got along with Coach Jones great, and all the coaches, and the facilities are incredible."
Added Swafford, "We went up there the Sunday before the dead period and had a great visit, me and Malik. The coaches are great," Foreman explained. "The first time I met them I was like, 'Wow! These guys are great.' We bonded and continued to get to know them and felt comfortable enough to go ahead and make our decision."
Swafford said he has developed a defensive mentality, something urged by his father during his development in recent years, but just as UT's coaches talked to Foreman about potentially playing slot receiver or defensive back, Swafford also said Jones' staff indicated they could fit on either side of the ball.
Their stats from both offense and defense are similarly gaudy. Foreman rushed for 1,387 yards, 17 touchdowns; caught 14 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns; and completed 50 percent of his passes after pressed into quarterback duty for 675 yards, nine touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Swafford gained 1,332 rushing yards and scored 29 touchdowns on the ground to accompany 18 receptions for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Foreman tallied 32 tackles, five tackles for losses, broke up eight passes, forced seven fumbles, notched six interceptions and blocked one kick. Swafford amassed 25 tackles, three of them for losses, broke up two passes, intercepted five and recovered a fumble.
Both players also were special teams standouts.
Unaware of his eye-popping stats and quick to praise his teammate Swafford, Foreman said he simply was a competitor focused on winning and just needed a chance.
"I've always been a competitor, so in my mind I can really play anywhere," he said of competing at the D-1 level. "It feels good to get [the decision] over with, get it done so I can just relax."
Eyeing the earlier of his two opportunities, Swafford made clear he wouldn't let up despite knowing he'll have a spot in Jones' Tennessee program in the future.
"I do footwork drills, defensive back drills and just do something every day so I can feel like I gain something every day," Swafford said.
Swafford also couldn't say enough about the potential to wear orange with Foreman at the next level, a dream they've shared for years. He even recalled a Pee Wee game in which the duo combined for 11 touchdowns in a game that was their last before they became teammates.
"We've been playing against each other or together since we started playing football," Swafford said. "I remember one game, I think it was our last year of Pee Wee football, when we just ran it back and forth and I had six touchdowns and he had five."
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