"It was early Friday morning on March 13, 2009, when I heard the news that changed my life forever."
That's how a teary-eyed Alontae Taylor began his signing ceremony on Friday, sharing a heartfelt speech full of emotion before he made his commitment to Tennessee official. The four-star receiver from Coffee County High School dedicated the day to his grandmother. She died on that March Friday in 2009 but made a tremendous impact on his life.
Her birthday was Christmas Eve and Taylor held his signing back until the last possible day - Friday, December 22. He wanted it to be as close as possible to her birthday to honor her.
The first ever college football early signing period ran from the morning of Wednesday, December 20 until Friday.
"My grandmother was and still is my motivation to succeed on and off the football field," Taylor continued his speech.
"Although her death hit me so deep, I can't help but smile when I hear a whisper come to my ear. I may not know what, but I do know who. I dedicate this day to my beautiful angel up in heaven, who's birthday is on Christmas Eve. I know you're not here physically, but I can feel you here spiritually."
As Taylor began his speech, the rain began pouring down outside the Coffee County Central High School gymnasium. After he pulled on his orange Tennessee hat, right when his pen hit the paper of his national letter of intent, the school bells rang.
Perhaps a sign from above. Perhaps his grandmother telling him she was proud.
"I learned a lot of life lessons from my grandmother," Taylor told WBIR. "She taught me a lot as far as being a gentleman and respecting others. When you go to school and see people, say good morning to them because you never know what's going through somebody's life, so just a 'good morning, how you doing.' Especially me being such a high-profile kid at my school, I'm supposed to be a popular kid who doesn't speak to everybody, coming in and saying, 'good morning.' I want to help kids any way I can, if it's speaking to them, hanging out with them, going places with them, anything to make them happy, I'm willing to do."
Taylor's grandmother, Ginger Irene Burnett Reese, was born in Winchester, Tenn. The hometown of legendary Vols football coach and current athletic director Phillip Fulmer.
"Me and Coach Fulmer talked a lot," Taylor said. "I talked to him after he got the AD job, he talked to me on the phone and he mentioned our families being from Franklin County and he told me to tell my grandad he remembers him being a really good baseball player back in the day."
The firing of Butch Jones was hard on Taylor, who thought highly of Jones. Frustrated, he decommitted from the Vols and took a closer look at Georgia and Louisville. But, Taylor always wanted to play for his home-state school and when Tennessee finally hired a new coach he became Jeremy Pruitt's first commit.
“The final decision coming down to it is this is my state. I want to represent my state and I want to be a part of what Tennessee is about to do," Taylor said.
"Tennessee is going to be one of the top programs. Tennessee will win an SEC Championship and I'm not just here to talk about it, Coach Pruitt said let's be about it. I can't wait to get to work so we can make that come true."
Taylor will enroll at UT in January and wear number six. He mostly played quarterback in high school because that often gave his team the best chance to win, but he will play wide receiver for the Vols.