Tennessee’s Tauren Poole isn’t one to hold a grudge.
So even though he felt like he was getting the shaft last season, he didn’t speak out, didn’t point fingers, didn’t brood and didn’t blame the guy playing in front of him.
“Everything that’s happened here has made me a better football player and a better person,” Poole said. “I’m not going to wallow in my disappointments. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and I’m going to put all my energy into making sure I take advantage of it.”
Poole, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound junior, is Tennessee’s starting tailback. A year ago, he was buried on the bench behind All-SEC performer Montario Hardesty and heralded freshman Bryce Brown, who was the crown jewel of former coach Lane Kiffin’s recruiting class.
Despite a big spring and despite several of his teammates feeling like Poole was the better player, Brown got the nod as Hardesty’s backup.
Poole knew there was nothing he could do about it, especially with Kiffin touting Brown so aggressively and reminding everybody along the way that the Vols were able to go out and sign the No. 1-rated player in the country.
Brown was Kiffin’s poster child when it came to recruiting, and the Vols’ former coach wasn’t about to sit him on the bench.
“I knew the only chance I would have was if something changed,” Poole said.
Well, something did. Kiffin bolted for Southern California in January, and Brown decided soon afterward that he was going to take a pass on spring practice and a hiatus from football.
So while Tennessee fans asked daily questions about Brown on radio talk shows and Internet message boards, Poole quietly went about his business on the practice field, entrenching himself as the Vols’ starter under first-year coach Derek Dooley.
“I want to be an all-around back, catching the ball, doing the little things, offering the offense a variety of things,” said Poole, who’s from Toccoa, Ga. “I pride myself on that, making plays any way I can to help the team win and not being a one-dimensional back.”
And if you had any reservations about Poole’s character, get a load of this: He reached out to Brown over these last several months and tried to talk him into coming back to the team.
Brown just recently requested a release, although Dooley said he has no plans to grant him one, and is headed to Kansas State to play with his older brother.
“He’d make us a better team and could offer us a lot,” Poole said of his efforts to re-recruit Brown. “It’s not about me, and it’s not about him. It’s about getting this team back to where it needs to be.”
Poole said he and Brown had several conversations and that it was pretty obvious that Brown’s heart was still in Tennessee.
“But I think there were other things working,” Poole said. “I’m not sure about all the dynamics. I just know it’s tough when you’re a young adult and have family telling you where you need to go. I wish him the best. It wasn’t his fault what happened last year. Maybe he deserved it. I don’t know.
“I just know that he and his family have decided it’s best for him to move on, and I am, too.”
Poole, who carried the ball just 10 times for 85 yards last season, will have his work cut out this season. The Vols’ offensive line will be one of the most inexperienced in recent SEC history. Guard Jarrod Shaw is the “veteran” of the group with three career starts, and two of the other starters will be freshmen.
“I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked and how motivated they are to prove everybody wrong,” Poole said. “I think they’re going to surprise a lot of people because there are some talented guys in that line.
“The experience will come. It takes a lot to play in this league, and we all know that greatness doesn’t happen overnight.”