On National Signing Day at his Maplewood High School, James Stone laid out the hats of Alabama, Tennessee and Tennessee State. The hat he chose would represent the school he would attend next year and would end a long process for one of the most highly-recruited players in the state of Tennessee.
Tennessee State's presence on the table represented the local university that had many ties with Stone and his family. Alabama represented the program that had been in the lead for his signature throughout almost the entire process and was one of the first schools to actively recruit him. Tennessee represented his college selection.
"I ended up picking Tennessee," Stone said prior to his selection. "It was really tough because I like Alabama, but they were my favorite out of the two."
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Tennessee fans were up in arms with the departure of former head coach Lane Kiffin but that departure is likely the only thing that allowed the Volunteers to steal Stone from the grips of SEC rival Alabama.
"I liked Tennessee but I didn't want to go there with Lane Kiffin up there," the four-star offensive lineman said. "When Coach Dooley came in it was a more desirable situation. I made some great relationships with Coach Pendry and Coach Cignetti but Tennessee was the school I wanted to be at and I know you can't make a decision based just on a coach."
The difference between Kiffin and his predecessor was distinct and while he respected Kiffin, he welcomed the new approach by Dooley.
"[Dooley] was more down to earth and straight to the point," he said. "He didn't try to do too much to make a point. I'm not bad-mouthing Kiffin. [Coach Dooley] just fits my personality better."
Growing up in the state of Tennessee, Stone had a hard time putting his finger on why he was drawn to the Volunteers' program but after mulling over his options, he just knew that it felt right.
"I struggled a lot with it for about a week," he said. "After I took my visit and took a week to kind of think about it in my mind I realized that's where I'd be the most happy. It just kind of stuck out to me."
The recruiting process can wear on players, particularly those of Stone's skill and desirability. At the end though - as a player that has always conducted himself with class throughout the process - he appreciated the experience and the opportunities he had.
"It was a great experience because I know a lot of kids will never be able to get this kind of opportunity," he said. "I appreciate being able to go through this but it's going to be a relief to get this behind me and just go to school."
Stone was rated as a four-star prospect by Rivals.com and played offensive guard in the Under Armour All-American Game in January. He expects to play either offensive tackle or offensive guard at Tennessee but doesn't come in with any expectations for playing time.
"They're going to use me at tackle or guard and they think they can use me whenever," he said. "[My decision] was all about the school. You're going to play anywhere when you're ready so I've never really been worried about that."