KNOXVILLE -- Most people probably expected Tauren Poole to celebrate fellow tailback Bryce Brown's at-least-temporary decision to leave the Tennessee football program.
"I like Bryce," Poole said Saturday afternoon, after the Volunteers' second spring practice. "I wish him the best. I wish he would have stayed.
"A lot of people have the misconception that I feel like he should have left. Not at all. I feel like depth is important at running back."
The nugget was hidden there. Poole felt Brown could have added depth to the backfield, but not be the main guy.
All things being equal, Poole feels he'd beat anyone for UT's starting job.
He felt he'd have won the job last season, too, if all things had been equal.
"I feel like I can do anything," Poole said. "That's how confident I am in myself. In every practice and every scrimmage last year, I brought it. I brought everything to the table.
"Why wouldn't I bring it in a game?"
Lack of opportunity would be a reason. And to hear Poole say it, that was the only reason he didn't do much as a freshman or sophomore.
"I have a chip on my shoulder, because last year I wasn't utilized," the 5-foot-11, 211-pound runner said. "I was undervalued. I felt like that was disrespectful to me, because I'm that good of a back. I should play. I'm not taking anything away from Montario (Hardesty). I'm glad he had a great season. But I feel like I should have been in the rotation.
"Last year was so frustrating for me, because I felt the guys that were playing couldn't do anything I couldn't do. I could do everything those guys could do. I just didn't get the opportunity. But it's in the past, so there's no sense dwelling on it anymore."
Poole didn't attempt to hide his joy at UT's third regime change in three seasons.
"I can only control me. I can't control what the coaching staff does," Poole said. "(Lane Kiffin) was the head guy. He had coercion over everything. All I can do is offer my opposition to the coach and go from there."
And he offered plenty of opposition.
Poole was a rather large pain in Kiffin's posterior. Nearly every conversation he had with the young coach featured this line: "Why are you not playing me?"
"Oh, yeah, I asked him all the time," Poole said. "I felt like I should have been playing. I felt like I deserved to play. He just said, 'It is what it is. We choose who we want to play.'
"I just always said, 'That's fine, but I'm just going to continue to keep working.' Me, myself, personally, I would never let any man get me down. I live for something bigger and better than any man around here."
Several teammates last season quietly suggested, always off the record, that Poole deserved a chance. When he disgustedly walked off the field last season before a game was finished -- something that would seemingly infuriate most teammates -- several Vols said they understood his frustration.
Poole routinely led UT in rushing yards during last preseason's scrimmages, and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney noted the "extra hitch in his giddy-up" any time the Vols scrimmaged in Neyland Stadium.
Ten-yard runs in practice became 60-yard runs on scrimmage Saturdays. Fifteen-yard screens in practice became 70-yard screens on scrimmage Saturdays. The defensive backs who corralled Poole during the week couldn't catch him in the open field on the weekend.
And it kept happening. But the depth chart never changed.
"I respect that guy so much," said middle linebacker and team captain Nick Reveiz. "Tauren is a guy who just from day one, just the way he worked from day one, I could tell that he was going to be good. And he has been good.
"Just seeing Tauren work through everything has been impressive. When you can't control something and you're frustrated about it, I think it's easy just to kind of fold up the tent and lay it down. But Tauren kept working, kept pushing, and I think now you're seeing a result of his hard work.
"He's running with the first team, and he deserves it. Ever since he's been here, he's deserved to have first-team snaps."
Vols quarterback Nick Stephens said Poole has always considered himself the best running back on the team.
"Just ask him," Stephens said with a smile. "He'll tell you."
Offensive lineman Cody Pope said Poole thinks he can beat anyone in Gibbs Hall at anything.
"Tauren balls out in everything he does," Pope said. "He balls out in practice. He balls out in the classroom. He balls out in video games. He balls out when we're talking smack. That's just how he is in life. He's very competitive, and that's everything you want in your everydown back.
"He is going to ball out in games. I have no doubt in my mind. You'll see."
Teammates tolerate Poole's confidence because of his work ethic and reliability -- something that's also a popular presence away from Haslam Field.
"It's not only what Tauren does on the field; it's also about what he does off the field, and the type of person he is," Pope said. "I'm telling you, he's going to get some hype this year -- a lot of hype. You'll see. And he will live up to the hype. He's that type of player. We believe in Tauren, because he's a good overall person and he works really hard. He's always doing the right thing.
"When I have kids some day, if Tauren was my next-door neighbor, I would want Tauren to watch my kids. He's a guy I can trust. He's a guy we can all trust."
Sounds nice, doesn't it?
But even Poole acknowledges he won't win the starting job purely because of his seniority.
Sophomore-to-be David Oku detests the notion that he's a third-down back without requisite size to play every snap. Chattanooga native Toney Williams, who will be a redshirt freshman next season, surprised coaches and teammates with his play until a torn ACL forced him off the field last summer. Rajion Neal, who will enroll this summer, was one of the South's top high school backs last season.
Poole knows he won't be given the job.
No problem, though. He said he'll earn it.
And he would have earned it with or without Brown on the team.
"Even if he was here, I'd get to show what I can do," Poole said.
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