Marsalis Teague on the freshman crew, video games and smooth R&B
As blue-chip recruits, they heard the same refrain, the same recruiting pitch:
Come to (Fill in the Blank University) and we'll give you a chance to play right away.
"Sometimes you hear that from coaches,'' said Marsalis Teague, "and you're like, 'Maybe they're just telling me that.'
"You can clearly vouch for this program right now. That was definitely true.''
The program Teague chose was Tennessee. When the Vols open the season Saturday against Western Kentucky (TV: MyVLT2, 12:21 p.m.), Teague and a posse of his rookie teammates will see the field.
A number of them will see the field in a prominent role.
One, safety Janzen Jackson, might be starting. In something of a surprise depth chart first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin released prior to game week, Jackson is bracketed with junior Dennis Rogan as a starter at free safety.
Jackson, in fact, did start the Vols' final preseason scrimmage on Saturday.
"That was a big recruiting pitch,'' said Jackson. "He kept his word.
"He promised me I'd get a chance to start. I've got my chance.''
Four true freshmen are bracketed with veterans as starters: Jackson, cornerback Mike Edwards, running back Bryce Brown and nose tackle Montori Hughes.
In addition, Teague, Nu'Keese Richardson or Zach Rogers could start at receiver, depending on this week's practice and what formation the offense opens in against the Hilltoppers.
Richardson and David Oku are also projected starters in the return game.
Two more, linebacker Greg King and safety Darren Myles, are listed as second-teamers.
"I thought we signed a number of players who would have significant roles as freshmen for us,'' Kiffin said. "With injuries, that's become more significant, especially at the receivers.
"That's good. It's good for competition and I think it shows these guys have worked really hard.''
Jackson finished preseason camp rising with a bullet.
A highly regarded prospect from Lake Charles, La., Jackson was a late signee who saw a chance to shine early. Still, he hadn't been working much with the No. 1 secondary.
"In preseason game three (Aug. 22) he was phenomenal on defense and he was the best special-teams player,'' Kiffin said, explaining the promotion.
Jackson is ticketed for heavy special-teams work, in addition to his role in the secondary.
He said the game began to come to him once he got a grip on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's playbook.
"There are a lot of things going into playing a Kiffin defense,'' Jackson said. "The hardest thing was learning the playbook.''
At least he had a helpful tutor, for matters on and off the field: All-American Eric Berry.
"He's kind of like a big brother out there,'' Jackson said. "And every time he talks, I've got my ears open. I don't speak when he's speaking.''
If Berry is the present of UT's secondary, guys like Jackson, Myles, Edwards and corner Eric Gordon are the future.
Jackson and Myles are kindred spirits as well as roomies.
"I love the way he plays,'' Jackson said. "He comes down with a vengeance.''
Edwards, whom the Vols snatched out of Cleveland, Ohio, has been one of the pleasant surprises of the class.
"Mike impressed me the most out of all the freshmen,'' said Jackson. "He's on the smaller side but he comes up and no matter how big the back is, he ain't afraid to make the tackle.''
Gordon, meanwhile, "always finds his way to the ball,'' Jackson said. "I think he's got three or four picks this camp.''
Kiffin and the staff have taken every extra measure to get the freshmen up to speed for opening day.
"He practically forced you to be comfortable with it,'' said Teague, "throwing you in there with the ones and twos when we first got here. It's almost like second nature to us.''
It was also the recruiting promise.
"He told us, 'It's up to you,' '' said King, " 'I'm going to give you the shot. You've got to take it and run with it.'
"He's true to his word. The freshmen just came to play.''