Tennessee Vols' Lane eyes 'winning standard' in final season

Tennessee Vols' Lane eyes 'winning standard' in final season

August 30th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Tennesse senior running back Marlin Lane has become a leader after earlier off-the-field issues, and he has worked hard to perform and to help Jalen Hurd and other young Vols.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - On one side of the garage sits the big, brand-new truck, complete with the suspension lift, the loud exhaust system and the big off-road tires.

On the other side there's the steady, sturdy pickup with the beat-up exterior, rusty rims and other signs of wear and tear from a couple thousands miles of use.

The image could apply to Tennessee's backfield, which enters Sunday night's season opener against Utah State featuring Jalen Hurd, the five-star freshman who stands at an imposing 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, and Marlin Lane, the senior who's had ups and downs on and off the field throughout his career.

Most of the hype since his arrival in January deservedly has focused on Hurd, and Lane, the second fiddle at tailback to Tauren Poole in 2o11 and Rajion Neal the past two seasons, almost has been the forgotten man.

Quietly, though, Lane enters his final season with a sharper focus and improved leadership intangibles.

"It's been a lot different," running backs coach Robert Gillespie said Thursday. "It's been great to have an older guy like Marlin around to help bring along Jalen Hurd, Derrell Scott and those guys. Last year we took our bumps and bruises, and we took bumps on the chin. I think those things, those experiences have helped Marlin be a better leader this year."

Like the rest of Tennessee's 2011 recruiting class, Lane has never played in a bowl game, but the 5-11, 220-pounder's story really is more about his off-the-field path than his rushing yardage and touchdown totals.

For a stretch during the first few months of the tenure of coach Butch Jones and his staff last year, Lane was suspended from the program, and his future was very much up in the air. But this offseason Lane took the Vols' new cast of offensive linemen out to eat to get to know them better, and it's become common to hear him leading and coaching Hurd and Tennessee's other tailbacks during practice.

Jones called Lane a "success story" at SEC media days in July, and earlier this month Lane, now a member of the Vols' 13-man player staff after his career was in doubt, called his reversal "a big turnaround."

Gillespie also said Lane's "biggest growth" indeed came off the field.

"He's learned from his mistakes," said the former Florida tailback, "and he's done a good job of putting those behind him.

"His teammates have done a good job. I probably want to compliment his teammates a little bit more than anything because I think at times no matter how hard you work, you have to be around a group of guys that are willing to forget your past and willing to look at what you're doing now."

During the offseason, Tennessee's players read a book by Jon Gordon called "The Energy Bus," and after Gordon came and spoke to the team, each player came up with a word to put "on the front of their bus" to serve as a mantra for the season.

Lane chose "today" for his.

"If I don't have everything I need to do accomplished today," he explained, "I won't be successful for tomorrow."

Lane carried the ball 114 fewer times than Neal last season despite averaging 5.3 yards per carry. His best moments were helping run the Vols down to the 1-yard line following Marquez North's circus catch to set up Michael Palardy's short game-winning field goal against South Carolina and running 16 times for 97 yards and a score against Western Kentucky.

Now he's sharing the backfield with the talented Hurd, who's full of potential.

"Each and every day we're pushing each other, getting better, waiting for the season and see how that'll do," Lane said after Tennessee's open practice. "We complement each other when we do good, but we mostly do it when we're bad. We get on each other worse. By him being here in the spring, he picked up a whole lot.

"It's mental, and it's finishing, and that's what we're getting on each other about."

Hurd said this week that Lane took him under his wing shortly after he arrived in Knoxville in January.

"He's a great leader, and he leads me every day," the freshman said. "I really, really look up to him, and I'm glad that he's here with me."

Gillespie and Hurd certainly haven't forgotten about Lane, who now will try to translate his turnaround off the field into production on it.

"All those guys that are seniors know that their days are numbered," Gillespie said. "I think they kind of take every practice to heart, because they know they're just one closer to being away from here. I think Marlin falls in that category of a guy that realizes he doesn't have many games left, and he wants to leave this season with a winning standard."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.