Poole endures for Vols, gets his shot

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- In the end, Tauren Poole is the one still standing.

He knew he was in a no-win situation last season, buried behind a player who was going to play in front of him no matter what.

It didn’t matter that Poole had been better in practices and better in scrimmages, and it didn’t matter that many of his teammates were telling him privately that he should be Tennessee’s No. 2 tailback behind Montario Hardesty.

Bryce Brown came in as one of the most hyped prospects in the country, a walking advertisement for Lane Kiffin’s recruiting prowess, and he was going to play -- regardless.

“I could have rushed for 100 yards every scrimmage, and the best I was going to do was third team, if that,” Poole said. “It was hard to take, especially with so many guys on the team telling me that wasn’t right. But I signed with Tennessee. This is where I wanted to be, and I wasn’t running away."

Granted, Poole did plenty of running away this spring ... from linebackers and defensive backs.

He heads into the 2010 season as the Vols’ most consistent offensive threat.

That’s because he stayed, and the others left.

Kiffin bolted for the Southern California head coaching job, and Brown decided he wasn’t interested in competing for the job after Kiffin left.

“Even though it was tough, I never lost faith in my ability and what I could do,” said Poole, a 210-pound junior, who rarely goes down on the first tackle. “I’d done it in practices and done it in scrimmage. All I needed was a chance.”

He got that chance when Derek Dooley took over for Kiffin. Dooley made it clear that he was wiping the slate clean for everybody, and Poole still remembers confidently nodding his head.

“Really, nothing changed for me,” he said. “I didn’t go any harder. I wasn’t any hungrier. The only thing that changed was that I knew everything was going to be legit out there on the field.”

Dooley has seen enough of Poole to know that he’s legit.

“He has tremendous character, and that’s the way he plays,” Dooley said. “He runs with a purpose and has made big plays for us throughout the spring, and we’re certainly going to need that from him in the fall.”

Poole’s just glad to have that chance.