DALLAS -- He kept everyone guessing right until the end.
Dallas Wilmer-Hutchins safety LaDarrell McNeil did not let his coaching staff, his teammates, college coaches or even his parents, who sat next to him at his announcement, in on which school would receive his pledge come decision time.
The 6-foot-1, 190- pound defender had his choices narrowed down to Oklahoma State and Tennessee and ultimately it was the Vols who received his commitment in a low-key announcement at his school on Monday evening. McNeil says his decision came down to a few factors -- namely the possibility of being compared to current and former Vol safety standouts.
"Following Eric Berry and Janzen Jackson I think will be a good choice," McNeil said. "Hopefully they will come back and give me some knowledge."
Also contributing to picking Tennessee over the Cowboys was McNeil's relationship with Tennessee special teams coach Eric Russell, who recruits Texas for the Vols along with head coach Derek Dooley.
"Coach Russell - he's the closest (to me)," McNeil said. "[Tennessee and Oklahoma State] both have great coaches. I love coach Jason Jones at Oklahoma State and I love coach Dooley at Tennessee.
McNeil says he felt a little bit more comfortable in Knoxville than Stillwater.
"What really put Tennessee in front of Oklahoma State is it is much bigger," he said. "I believe I can fit in and I can live at Tennessee without football (if it came to it), but Oklahoma State I wouldn't be too sure."
McNeil says playing in the Southeastern Conference was also a factor in his decision, but it was not at the forefront.
"The SEC is special," he said. "They are much thicker and bigger and a big conference than any conference I visited, he said. "But I can play football anywhere. I would play for anybody but I want to be able to live and have fun while I play football.
"But playing in the SEC for me doesn't affect me, to be honest. Football is football."
An unofficial visit to Knoxville in July opened McNeil's eyes to what his college experience could be like and he say he felt comfortable around the players and coaches. One aspect in particular really caught his attention
"I really wasn't taking in much of the football stuff," he said. "I was taking in where I could stay and live. Tennessee overcame almost all the schools I visited. What really drew me in was the support system; the support system was amazing."
McNeil, rated as the country's No. 5 safety and the No. 107 overall player in the nation, says distance did not matter much to him and he feels comfortable adjusting to life away from home.
"I talked to a lot of guys and what they tell me is distance is not a factor unless you make it a factor," he said. "They said once you get through that first year, it is a piece of cake."
McNeil, who has been selected to play in January's U.S. Army All-American Bowl, posted 148 tackles while recording three interceptions as junior. He also finished the year with 10 pass breakups and two sacks.