The toughest talent evaluators for Aaron Douglas might have been his parents.
In fact, it took a one-handed catch in middle school for Douglas to provide mom Karla, a former UT Lady Vol standout, and dad David, a former Vol offensive lineman who played in the NFL, with the assurance he was no ordinary talent.
"I guess the first football time we realized was seventh grade. We were playing Bearden, and had never beaten them, and Aaron ran a route across the middle and made just one of those catches," Karla Douglas said. "It's really kind of ironic, because it reminded us of the Alcoa catch (Douglas' remarkable, one-handed grab during his 2007 senior season). One of the one-handed, leap up and grab it. After that catch, it was like, 'Wow, maybe he does have some skills. Let's hone in on them.'"
With a 6-foot-7, 255-pound, college-ready frame and hands soft as melted butter, Aaron Douglas was one of Tennessee's highest-rated prospects -- a four-star tight end -- when he signed with the Vols today as part of their 2008 signing class.
"I definitely want to prove myself on the field," said Douglas, one of only four four-star prospects in UT's class. "I really don't worry about the rankings, but definitely you want to prove yourself and show them that you are who they thought you were when they recruited you."
With his parents friends of UT coach Phillip Fulmer and the UT campus almost a second home, Douglas had long been expected to sign with the Vols. It was those experiences throughout his youth that reinforced to Douglas that he wanted to be at Tennessee, even as the coaching staff underwent a major overhaul the past eight weeks.
"I always loved the program, but as the years went on and I kept going to games, it just kept building and building," he said. "And I was like, 'This is really where I want to play football.' When that opportunity was offered to me, I couldn't pass it up. ...
"The coaching changes didn't matter, because I knew he was going to bring in great guys. Which he did. All of the coaches who came in, they're all great guys."
Karla Douglas has long marveled at her son's appreciation of the Tennessee program.
"He's had a season ticket since he was 7, and I think one of the most memorable times with me was when we played Florida in Neyland Stadium the year of the national championship (1998)," Karla Douglas said. "I remember Aaron and I are running up the ramps to go to our seats, and I said, 'Oh gosh, Aaron, I'm just so excited for this game.' And he turns to me and says. 'Mom, I've got butterflies.' Here he is this young kid, and he's already feeling nervous about them taking the field and playing."
Her son also met some players in the Volunteers locker room after a game, but he was more impressed with something else.
"I can remember the first time he got to go into the locker room, and we're asking him who he met; he couldn't remember any of the players' names, but he remembered jumping in the pile of dirty jerseys," she said. "Just things like that as a kid, how your perception of what it means to be a part of Tennessee football. He's got some good memories, starting with those dirty jerseys."
Both parents have passed down to Aaron what it means to be a Tennessee Vol.
"They loved it, and I know from what they told me, it's a great atmosphere," Aaron Douglas said. "I'm starting to see more and more what type of family atmosphere it really is over there. And they've given me some pointers about college, but it's definitely the tradition, a great program and great university."
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