KNOXVILLE - Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton had about the best freshman season he could have hoped for in 2013.
Not one of the more heralded recruits in the Volunteers' 2013 signing class, Sutton, a three-sport star at Jonesboro High School south of Atlanta, won a starting job very early in preseason practice last August, returned an interception for a touchdown in his second collegiate game and went on to earn Freshman All-SEC honors.
In pretty much everyone's eyes, it was resounding success.
Sutton didn't see it that way.
"I was not satisfied with my year," he said after Tennessee's second spring practice Saturday morning. "I knew I could've made a lot more plays than I did, but that comes with the learning tools. Now I have that one year of experience under my belt, and I'll be ready.
"I'm just had a great motivating staff behind me, and I'm just pushing myself to try to be the best that I can."
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound former three-star recruit made an impression just about the first time he stepped on campus last summer. His teammates noticed his impressive work ethic, and his coaches raved about his maturity and consistent demeanor. Tennessee's staff hardly seemed nervous about starting a freshman cornerback in the SEC.
And Sutton showed why.
He was sixth on the team with 39 tackles, took an interception back against Western Kentucky, recovered a fumble at Florida and broke up three passes, including two in the end zone against South Alabama. He intercepted South Carolina's Connor Shaw in Tennessee's upset win and sacked Auburn's Nick Marshall.
The performance earned Sutton a spot in the on the Freshman All-SEC team with Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III, LSU's Tre'Davious White and Ole Miss's Tony Conner -- a trio of 247Sports.com five-star prospects.
"Last year was just a steppingstone," Sutton said. "I had a couple of great games last year, but I know it doesn't stop there. I've got to keep building on from where I am now and just keep playing."
Sutton said he didn't surprise himself by making an immediate impact. The Vols were so depleted at corner heading into last season that Sutton, fellow freshman Malik Foreman or junior college transfer Riyahd Jones likely would have to start across from Justin Coleman. Yet Sutton said "since day one" he knew he could play and play well.
"That's my mentality, just coming in and working hard," he declared. "I know where I stand, I know I can play ball and it's just a process. [It's] coming in, working hard, getting the film, studying routes, studying concepts, and from there it's just playing ball."
Though he stuck with a commitment through Tennessee's coaching change, Sutton was wanted by both defensive coordinator John Jancek and secondary coach Willie Martinez at different programs in 2012. Jancek was at Cincinnati, where Sutton nearly visited before committing, and Martinez was pushing for Sutton at Auburn.
"I've always loved him and I've always wanted him when I was at Auburn," Martinez, the former Georgia assistant and coordinator, said last October. "The things that turned me on the most about him was he played three sports and was a starter in all of them. He's a competitive kid.
"Every time you talked to somebody about him, they said nothing but praised him and talked about how well of a team guy he was, how smart he was, how athletic he was."
In 2013, Sutton showed he was better than his recruiting rating.
"I pretty much don't worry about those things --the numbers and all that," he said. "You don't play the game on the Internet. You've got to step between those white lines, and that's what it's all about."
And now it's about taking his freshman success, avoiding complacency and building on it as a sophomore.
"I think I had a few good plays last year," Sutton said, "but it doesn't stop there."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org