Dylan Jackson still remembers feeling stunned earlier this year when he walked out of morning workouts and bumped into University of Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
"It was actually pretty shocking. We had just gotten done working out and were sitting in the basketball locker room. I walk out and coach Bajakian is standing there. I was just shocked," said the 6-foot-5.5-inch, 225-pound Jackson. "It's an awesome experience. He's a really nice guy. He seems like a fun coach to watch from going to that (earlier) spring practice."
A rising junior defensive end at perennial powerhouse Maryville High School and early candidate to be a top-10 player in the state of Tennessee's 2015 class, Jackson is seeing his recruitment escalate considerably this spring. In addition to the Vols, Jackson indicated he's heard from Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Duke, Clemson, and just received an LSU camp invitation.
It's the beginning of a surreal process for Jackson, who has been playing football since "fourth or fifth grade."
"It's really cool," Jackson said. "I mean I wouldn't have expected it growing up, but it's great knowing that this is actually happening."
The recruiting process is heating up for a variety of reasons for Jackson. He's competed already in a couple of VTO camps in Atlanta and also went to a Nike SPARQ combine. Jackson will compete next weekend at the prestigious Rivals.com/Under Armour event in Charlotte, N.C., an invitation-only camp.
But, said Maryville's nine-time state-champion coach George Quarles, Jackson has taken nothing for granted.
"Dylan has those things that you cannot teach a player," said Quarles, who has led his teams to the state championship game in 12 of his 14 years atop the Rebels' program and routinely gotten interest from college programs. "He has great size and length. He runs very well for a big man.
"On top of that, he works hard and is competitive. Put all those together and you see why he has a chance to be a really good player."
Jackson, who indicated he will be at the Vols' scrimmage on Saturday and hopes to attend the April 20 Orange & White game as well, said his camp experiences this year have given him plenty of lessons to help make him a better player.
"I mean it really just gives me a lot to work on. What I need to work on to beat certain guys and new stuff to use on the field," Jackson said. "I feel like I've shown that I work hard, and that I don't quit."
While Jackson probably is athletic enough to play on either side of the ball, he said he much prefers defense.
"Defense has always been my main thing. I just feel like I play a really aggressive game," he said. "I like getting up in there and hitting people."