Newman’s Kendall Bussey commits to Tennessee _lowres

Advocate Photo by KYLE ENCAR -- Newman running back Kendall Bussey

Kendall Bussey first fell in love with the University of Tennessee when he visited the Knoxville campus six or seven years ago running track in the junior Olympics.

Bussey is headed back to the Tennessee campus again: this time as a running back.

Bussey, a senior at Newman High School, verbally committed to the Volunteers on Friday evening.

“Not many people get to live out their dream and play at their dream school,” Bussey said. “That was the deciding factor.”

The 5-foot-8, 210 pound senior originally committed to Tulane in June 2013, becoming the first commitment in the Green Wave’s 2015 recruiting class.

He then switched to Nebraska in January.

But after Nebraska fired coach Bo Pelini a few weeks ago, Bussey reopened his recruitment.

“I’m done now,” he said Friday.

He can make his commitment official on Feb. 4, which is national signing day.

Bussey’s final four choices were Tennessee, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Indiana.

A cap representing all four schools were on the table before his announcement that was made with his mother, Keon, on his right and father, Kendall Bussey Sr., and sister, Keja, on his left.

He eliminated the Indiana and the Nebraska caps before finally donning the orange and white cap.

Bussey’s father, Kendall Bussey, Sr., a former NFL running back, broke down in tears after the decision that concluded a lengthy recruiting process.

“He worked so hard to get here,” said the proud elder Bussey, who played with the Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings. “He’s not just my son, he’s my best friend.”

Bussey Jr. said it was a close decision between Tennessee and Texas A&M.

“It was a coin flip,” he said. “I talked to both coaches the night before and my mind and my heart was everywhere. To be honest, I was wishy-washy at the podium, but I felt like I solidified it this morning. When I say (A &M was) second, I’m saying a close second.”

Bussey said he relishes the opportunity to play in the Southeastern Conference.

“No stage is bigger,” Bussey said. “The Big Ten isn’t bad, but the SEC is top dog. Everyone knows that.”

Bussey rushed for 1,240 yards and 28 touchdowns this season for the Greenies, who reached the Division III select semifinals. Bussey, a three-star recruit according to 247Sports, finished the season with 35 total touchdowns, setting the school single-season record.

“They are getting one of the best all-purpose backs in the country,” Newman coach Nelson Stewart said. “And he is a young man of high character who works hard and is a true team player. He can run, catch and will help in the return game. He is a true multipurpose back and is going to help Tennessee. They are going to find that they have a true gem and they have someone who will help them tremendously the next four years.”

Stewart called Bussey one of the best players to come out of a Newman, a school that has produced NFL players like Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr.

Bussey will be following the college choice of Peyton Manning, who announced his decision to become a Volunteer 20 years ago.

“That’s special to have had a Newman alum like Peyton Manning to have played there,” Bussey said. “That kind of played a part in it.”

Stewart, who graduated a year after Manning, knows Manning would be proud.

“When Peyton decided to go to Tennessee, it started a connection between this school and Tennessee,” Stewart said. “It says a lot about Tennessee that they are able to get an athlete of this caliber. I think Peyton is proud that both of his alma maters are represented here today.”