Carlin Fils-aime made a simple request of Naples teammate Tyler Byrd.
Just take one visit with him to the University of Tennessee where the running back verbally committed over the summer and then Byrd can make the decision where he’ll continue his football career.
One visit to Knoxville is all it took.
Byrd, a four-star recruit, finalized a decision he made Tuesday night via Periscope in front of more than 2,000 viewers, signing a National Letter of Intent Wednesday to join Fils-aime, who he calls his “brother,” at Tennessee next year in a ceremony at Naples High.
“I realized that was home now,” Byrd said of Rocky Top.
It marked the end of a crazy few weeks of recruiting that had a major impact on two schools on National Signing Day. Byrd, ranked the 35th best player in the Class of 2017 by ESPN, had been committed to the University of Miami for more than a year, a span where he established himself as a lockdown cornerback whose reputation soared during Naples’ run to the Class 6A semifinals and in the U.S. Army All-American Game.
In the same span, Fils-aime rushed for 1,505 yards and 23 touchdowns, earning him first-team all-state honors. He also added the title of blue chip recruiter to his resume as he made subtle pitches to Byrd, including a hand-made sign that read “I Volunteered to ask you to Sadie Hawkins cause you’re the only Ten-I-See.”
“I just told him to come look at Tennessee and he did,” Fils-aime said. “He fell in love with it. He loved the coaches. Ultimately it was his decision. If he stayed at Miami or went somewhere else, I’d still be there for him. He’ll always be my boy.”
Byrd experienced the highs and lows of recruiting, starting with flipping his verbal commitment from Florida to Miami before signing day last year. Despite the negative attention he received from Gators fans, he soaked in the love and support of a Miami fan base eager for him to put the program back on the map.
History repeated itself Tuesday as Vols fans showered with praise and congratulations, while a few jilted Hurricanes fans made their negative feelings known over social media.
“There’s extreme pressure about being one of the top recruits in the nation,” Byrd said. “You just have to stay true to yourself, keep praying and make sure you make the best decision for you.”
Byrd, Fils-aime, safety Chris Riley (Holy Cross), placekicker Jerry Nunez (Indiana State) and offensive linemen Jerry Prutos (Marist) gave the Eagles five Division I football recruits.
“Oh, man, I couldn’t wait for this day,” Fils-aime said. “Just coming in here and seeing everyone sitting down and waiting for us and clapping for us as they’re calling our names really makes you realize you have a lot of support at home.”