Scenes and outtakes from the Vols media day
Tauren Poole felt slighted.
David Oku felt deserted.
It's a good thing Tennessee's tailback tandem shared a dorm room last year. Otherwise, they might not be poised to shine sharing a backfield this season.
"It's weird how things work out," said Oku, a sophomore from Midwest City, Okla.
"I tell him to stay, he told me to stay, and things are working out for the both of us."
That the humble Poole nearly left UT last season isn't really a secret.
The junior from Toccoa, Ga., was mired at fourth on the depth chart behind Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown, former coach Lane Kiffin's prized recruit.
Poole felt his strong performances in spring practice and preseason scrimmages merited more than the 10 carries he got last season.
Those frustrations boiled over when Poole voiced his opinions and Kiffin sent him to the locker room against Memphis last November.
"I know Tauren thought about leaving last year because of his situation," said Oku. "He felt like he (deserved) a lot better."
Both backs kept to themselves for the most part.
"I know David wanted to play more, and of course I wanted to play more, but we never really spoke on it," Poole said.
"Tauren's a quiet guy, I'm a quiet guy," Oku said. "We talked a little bit, not too much."
But Oku said enough to convince Poole to stay.
"We just kept pushing each other," said Oku. "I talk to him, tell him, 'Man, just stay, things will work out. That's just how sometimes it is.'"
The tables turned after Kiffin bolted for Southern Cal in January, prompting Oku to consider a transfer.
"He felt like, of course, Kiffin was his coach," said Poole.
"(I thought) who is this guy?" Oku said of his first impression of Derek Dooley, his new coach. "(Poole told me) 'No, just stay, you'll be fine.'"
Oku took Poole's advice, and both have asserted themselves with Hardesty's departure to the NFL and Brown's transfer. Dooley has heaped praise on both throughout preseason camp for their attitude, consistency and playmaking ability.
"I'm glad he stayed," Poole said. "You can see how well he's doing in this offense, and how he's been productive."
Both said their skills have grown as much as their friendship.
"We both have matured and we've bettered our friendship from both the things we went through last year," Oku said.
"He's like my little brother," Poole said smiling.
"We've grown close, and it's just great to see a guy like that mature and grow into the person he is right now. I just like to see him continue to develop as player and make everyone around him better."
Patrick Brown is a freelance contributor.