KNOXVILLE — Jeremy Banks surged through a hole opened by Tennessee's offensive line, and for a moment it appeared the freshman running back had just one defender between himself and the end zone.
"He probably had two acres of grass," Volunteers offensive coordinator Tyson Helton told the Knoxville Quarterback Club on Monday.
A quick juke to the left or right would have sprung Banks loose on the first play after a 48-minute weather delay in Tennessee's 59-3 victory over East Tennessee State University last Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Instead, Banks stayed his original course, leading to a violent collision with ETSU safety Tyree Robinson. It was one of three moments on a scoring drive that demonstrated Banks' combination of energetic talent and youthful naiveté that has Tennessee coaches alternating between smiling and facepalming.
"We're just scratching the surface with him," Helton told the Knoxville Quarterback Club.
The Vols (1-1) host the University of Texas at El Paso (0-2) at noon Saturday in their final tune-up before beginning Southeastern Conference play next week against Florida.
Banks is one of four running backs contending for carries in the backfield, with his workload this season dependent on the way he practices, just as it is for everyone on the roster. But as the only freshman in the group and with no running backs committed to the Vols' 2019 recruiting class, it appears the staff believes it has found its running back of the future.
"He's a hard worker, kind of a spark plug," Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said Wednesday. "Still has so much to learn about going about doing his business every day. That's just part of being a freshman."
A few plays after his loud collision with Robinson, Banks stood in the backfield with quarterback Jarrett Guarantano under center and the Vols just 2 yards away from surging ahead 16-0 in the second quarter. Banks pumped his arms enthusiastically, asking a crowd of 96,464 to get loud.
Guarantano quickly pumped his arms the opposite direction to subdue the noise because he needed the offensive line to be able to hear the snap count. Banks took a handoff from Guarantano and plunged into the end zone behind a convoy of blockers for the first score of his Vols career.
"That's how you're supposed to run the power right there: Create your own hole," Pruitt said on his weekly television show.
Then, as footage of Banks' animated touchdown celebration played, Pruitt's praise turned to admonition in the same breath.
"He needs to act like he's been in there before," Pruitt said.
Banks' teammates have noticed his vibrant personality and hard running as well.
"He's a great player, man," junior receiver Brandon Johnson said. "I can't wait to see what he does throughout his career."
This past December, Tennessee's new coaching staff managed to recruit Banks and fellow freshman Jerome Carvin out of Cordova High School in Memphis in the two weeks between Pruitt accepting the job and the NCAA's new early signing period.
Carvin started at right guard against ETSU and executed what Pruitt referred to as "a kick block" on the play in which Banks collided with Robinson. Carvin's emergence into the starting lineup comes after an injury forced him to miss summer conditioning.
"I think both guys, if they continue to work hard, they've got a chance to be good football players," Pruitt said.
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Banks is built like the physical, downhill runners Pruitt's staff craves. When the opportunities present themselves, though, the coaches would like to see Banks make a defender miss instead of just plowing over him.
"The free safety is standing right there, and he made a beeline right toward him," Helton said as Knoxville Quarterback Club patrons chuckled. "Hopefully, moving forward we can make some cuts and go score."