Patient Poole finally has shot to be Vols’ top RB

Tauren Poole seriously considered leaving Tennessee after a 2009

season that found him as low as fourth on the Volunteers’ running

back depth chart.

He had dazzled his teammates and fans during last season’s

spring and fall camps with his speed and knack for evading tackles.

As a sophomore he knew he didn’t have much of a chance at unseating

senior leader Montario Hardesty as the starter but was still

surprised to find himself behind freshmen Bryce Brown and David

Oku.

”I performed well in the offseason last year. Every time. It

was unfortunate that I didn’t get that shot, but it made me the

person that I am today,” Poole said.

Poole’s patience has paid off, and now the Toccoa, Ga., native

is poised to become a starter under new coach Derek Dooley.

His stats aren’t indicative of someone who’s a surefire starter.

He gained 86 yards on 22 carries as a freshman in 2008. In 2009, he

carried the ball 10 times for 85 yards, including a long run of 34

yards against a Western Kentucky team that would end the season

winless. He’s never scored a touchdown.

Former coach Lane Kiffin seemed determined to give Brown, the

top prospect in his only recruiting class at Tennessee, more shots

at playing last season, even though Poole showed more promise

during the offseason. Brown finished the season with 476 yards and

three touchdowns on 101 carries but opted to leave Tennessee after

Kiffin bolted for Southern California in January.

Oku is still in the mix, redshirt freshman Toney Williams is

back from last year’s season-ending knee injury and Dooley’s added

freshman Raijon Neal to the roster. Still, the Vols who face the

running backs daily at practice insist its Poole who deserves the

start.

”I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people this year,”

Tennessee linebacker Austin Johnson said. ”You can get the biggest

hit on him, and he can stay up. It’s unbelievable.”

Poole was plenty impressive during this year’s spring practices,

and led the Vols offense during the Orange and White spring game

with 101 all-purpose yards, 58 yards receiving on three catches and

50 yards rushing on 12 carries.

Dooley praised him in the spring for being consistently

productive during practice, and the coach has seen more of the same

during the Vols’ first week of fall camp.

”Incredible work ethic, incredible attitude, runs hard,

tremendous effort, great leader. He’s doing quite well,” Dooley

said.

And though Poole is blunt about feeling unfairly passed over

last season, he is one of the most team-oriented players in the

lineup.

When Brown first considered leaving Tennessee after Kiffin’s

departure in January, Poole tried to convince him otherwise. Later

in the spring he was given Tennessee’s 2010 Fourth Quarter Award,

acknowledging his positive attitude, discipline, toughness, effort

and dedication to the team.

Poole also knows he can’t waste the opportunity he’s been

waiting for patiently.

”I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said. ”Nothing is

guaranteed in this league, and I’ve learned that a lot over the

years that I’ve been here. I’m just ready to go. I’m really excited

about it.”

That attitude and the patience Poole has shown has in turn

inspired his teammates.

”A lot of people would just leave,” Oku said. ”He just sat

back there and said, ‘Just be patient, just believe in God.’ I take

my role really seriously because Tauren did the same thing last

year. You just follow behind Tauren, and you’ll be all right.”