He ultimately decided on the team that made him feel most at home.
And that wasn’t his home-state school.
The three-star defensive end from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., who’s originally from Florence, S.C., announced Thursday that he has committed to Tennessee, choosing the Vols over South Carolina after visiting both teams last month.
Gerald gave Tennessee its 17th known commitment for the 2018 class and its fifth from a defensive lineman, addressing one of Tennessee’s most glaring needs with one of the nation’s top junior-college prospects at the position.
“Out of all the visits I’ve taken, I felt like Tennessee felt like home, the most (like) home,” said Gerald, who’s ranked the No. 11 overall junior-college prospect and No. 2 juco strongside defensive end in the 247Sports Composite for the 2018 class. “It felt like my home away from home. I mean, it was perfect.
“It was really a perfect visit.”
“Just last year, with them having Derek Barnett and him having such huge success, and me being — I mean, I wouldn’t say I’m totally identical to him, but me being similar to him in size, height, everything,” Gerald said.
Gerald, a former standout at West Florence (S.C.) High School, said he “was already high on Tennessee” before his visit with the Vols last month during an approximately 10-day stay in his hometown that allowed him to travel to both Tennessee and South Carolina.
“My family always tells me I have to do what’s best for me, and at the end of the day, if Tennessee is best for me, then that’s what I have to do,” Gerald said. “South Carolina is a great school with great coaches. But, I mean, I have to go to the opportunity that’s the highest.
“I’ve prayed on this a long time — long before this right here. When I first got the offer from Tennessee, I already knew. My dad’s a Tennessee fan. I prayed long and hard about the two schools, and I know. If God gives it to me, I can’t go against it.”
He said his relationship with first-year Tennessee offensive line coach Walt Wells, who’s serving as his primary recruiter for the Vols, played a “huge” role in his decision.
“I can say, if it wasn’t for Coach Wells, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” Gerald said. “(Tennessee head) coach (Butch) Jones stepped in and really took control of it. But even after Coach Jones took control, Coach Wells talks to me every single day. There’s not a day that I do not hear from Coach Wells. I can honestly say he’s been a huge part of this decision — a huge part.
“I mean, I can just tell he’s genuine. He truly seems like a genuine guy. That’s everyone over at Tennessee. Coach Wells, he was the one that offered me. He offered me, and ever since that day, he has not taken a break in recruiting me. And we’ve built a great relationship, but not just (with) me — (with) my family.
Gerald admitted other teams might offer more direct paths to early playing time than what he will find at Tennessee next year. But he said he still expects to “have a great shot” at finding his way onto the field right away for the Vols.
“You have to compete wherever you go,” he said. “That’s never going to change, whether I went to Alabama, LSU — anywhere. I’d have to compete wherever I went, so I really had to think about it. I do want to compete immediately for playing time, which I think I will at Tennessee. I believe I have a great shot. I believe in my talents. I believe in my hard work, my ability to play
While Gerald said he still wouldn’t mind taking a look at a few more of the 20 schools pursuing him, he added that he’s not currently planning to visit other teams in the coming months.