August 18, 2013

Malone talks Neyland scene, Vols & more

Josh Malone could have soaked up one final weekend at home before the gauntlet of his own Station Camp High School (Gallatin) football season and the accompanying recruiting whirlwind.

Instead, the nation's third-ranked wide receiver and state of Tennessee's second-rated player took in the University of Tennessee's open football practice Saturday night inside Neyland Stadium, where a crowd announced at more than 39,000 watched Butch Jones' Volunteers work.

"It was a great night for the team; the atmosphere was great. Forty-thousand people for a practice isn't bad," said the 6-foot-3, 187-pounder. "It was great."

Rain didn't deter the crowd's enthusiasm or the Vols' work, not that Malone was stunned.

"Honestly, I'm not surprised just because I know everybody is excited about Tennessee right now, and Tennessee has full momentum right now," Malone said.

After slipping a bit with Malone, Tennessee has regained a strong interest from the fluid, hard-working receiver thanks largely to the efforts of linebackers coach and Nashville-area recruiter Tommy Thigpen, as well as UT's relentless head coach.

"Really, just trying to build a stronger relationship. I like both (Jones and Thigpen). We've got a good connection," Malone explained. "I've talked to Coach Z (Zach Azzanni) and all them. Really, just trying to enjoy my time when I go up there."

While Malone has said his first unofficial trip of the fall will be the Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game on Thursday, Aug. 29, in Nashville, he didn't decide until relatively late to check out the scene on Rocky Top Saturday night.

"It was really kind of last-minute. I was talking to my ride (on Friday) and he said, 'I'm coming up to the scrimmage at Tennessee. Let me know if you want to go,' and I said, 'Yeah, let's go,'" Malone said.

So after seeing the Vols work for nearly two hours in the rain, could Malone see early playing time being available at Tennessee?

"I feel like early playing time is attainable here. Just got to see how the offense goes and see if I feel comfortable with the offense," Malone said.

But the standout pass-catcher, who plans to be an early enrollee, said for now his focus remains on his high school season.

"I'm very excited about my upcoming season. My team is very competitive, and I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "It's one of the most competitive teams that we've had."

While Malone hasn't set exactly which game he'll visit Tennessee, he does intend to return to see the Vols in action at home this season.

"I have not decided which game (for an official). I'm looking at South Carolina, Georgia or Vanderbilt," Malone said. "I haven't set the one with Georgia yet, but I plan to get them set soon."

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