Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee quarterback Jonathan Crompton will be starting for the Vols.
KNOXVILLE -- Jonathan Crompton doesn't remember the exact moment he rediscovered his confidence, but he'll never forget what started to transformation.
Not long after the University of Tennessee finished one of its most disappointing seasons, the Volunteers' much-maligned quarterback sat down with his father and pondered his past, present and future situations.
And David Crompton, like usual, knew how to comfort his son.
"You know what? Just let it all hang loose," David told Jonathan. "What do you have to lose at this point? Nothing."
The message quite simply stated that things were never certain to improve, but that, at least on the field, they couldn't get worse.
Point taken, the son thought.
"It's still a game," Jonathan Crompton said. "Obviously, it's a little higher level, but it's still the game of football, and that's the game I chose as a little kid that I wanted to play. And I still love it, and I'm still passionate about it."
Crompton, according to new Vols coach Lane Kiffin, translated those positive thoughts onto the field. The clubhouse leader after spring practice to start under center never surrendered much ground to junior Nick Stephens in preseason camp, officially reclaiming his position last week.
"It was really good after that conversation with my dad, and then just adding on to that with how Coach Kiffin and the coaches have reacted, it's just all came together," Crompton said Tuesday afternoon.
And those results will start showing themselves Saturday, according to handfuls of UT coaches and players.
Crompton has been handed the keys, and his coach doesn't want him peeking over his shoulder at Stephens.
"We never rotate quarterbacks ... under normal circumstances," Kiffin said. "We'll go with Jonathan, and I'm excited to see him play in this offense.
"As you guys should expect, you've got three true freshmen out of the five receivers that will play, so there could be some timing issues a little bit with those guys. But we're excited to see him play in this offense."
Crompton feels the same way, to the amazement of some Vols who watched one of the team's most popular players struggle though a torturous junior season.
The quarterback credited another of his father's many lessons for helping him persevere.
"I don't think I've read a newspaper since my freshman year of high school, and that's no joke," Crompton said. "You're never as good as they say, and you're never as bad as they say ... so I just try to stay away from the message boards and newspapers and all of that.
"To me, as long as I know what I'm capable of doing, and as long as I do it, and the coaches and players do the same, that's all that counts."
Some things couldn't be avoided, though. Crompton occasionally seemed like persona non grata around campus, receiving nasty stares and nastier e-mails that threatened physical harm. Smaller problems, like prank calls on his cell phone and graffiti on his mail, were a constant nuisance.
"Being the quarterback here is great when you're winning, but it ain't no picnic when you're losing," UT center Josh McNeil said. "It's hard for everybody, but especially the quarterbacks."
Third-year sophomore cornerback Anthony Anderson, one of the many Vols who claims to be "always hanging out at Crompton's apartment," said some of the things he saw last season were "just unbelievable."
"He handled it very maturely, way better than I think I would have," added Anderson, a Knoxville native who could start Saturday. "If I was him, honestly, I don't know if I could do it.
"I'm just so proud of him as a person. I look up to him even more after last season, because the way it went, I don't know how anybody could deal with that. Him coming back this year and being so focused, man, I just don't know he did it. But he did it."
Asked for the precise moment he fully regained his confidence, Crompton sat quietly for a moment before bursting out in laugher.
He didn't have an answer.
"That's a great question, because I have no clue," he said. "It's funny. I guess you say it's a cliché, but it's like it just clicked, and something just happened, and instantly, I guess you could say I just went back to my old self.
"And it's been fun ever since that did happen."
How long it stays fun, though, depends largely on the next few Saturdays. Crompton said he's "completely, 110 percent" moved on from last season's debacle, but it's fair to question whether this newfound confidence could stand up to another slow start.
Then again, maybe not. Self-doubt hadn't crept into Crompton's mind until last season. In high school, he once fired a long pass down the sideline, turned around and put his index finger in the air before his receiver touched the ball.
And that play finished with a touchdown.
"Not to say last year I wasn't prepared or anything like that last year," Crompton said. "It just feels like this year, I'm that much more prepared.
"I don't know (why), but something just feels like it's there."