Outward unhappiness and a lack of “conviction” highlighted the two years tailback David Oku spent at Tennessee.
Oku’s time with the Vols is over, as UT announced Friday that the former top-ranked all-purpose back will transfer after the spring semester. He will not participate in any football-related activities from now until his departure.
“David has handled this situation in a professional way, and we mutually agreed that his departure is best for him and for our program,” coach Derek Dooley said in a university statement.
Oku, who was ranked the No. 1 all-purpose back by Rivals.com out of Midwest City, Okla., was considered a late steal for Lane Kiffin’s first and only signing class in 2009, as Oku announced his decision more than one month after National Signing Day. Teamed with Bryce Brown, who was then considered one of the top overall prospects in 2009, Oku helped give UT one of the most hyped freshman backfields in the country.
Both players are now no longer with the team.
Bogged down on the depth chart behind Brown and Montario Hardesty, Oku, who also saw action on kick returns, carried the ball just 23 times for 94 yards and two touchdowns during his freshman season. It didn’t get much better as a sophomore, as Oku amassed 174 yards on 42 carries while losing hold of his backup role to freshman Rajion Neal throughout spurts of the season.
After Oku’s slow start to the 2010 season, Dooley called out the tailback for his pensive running style.
“I’ve seen nothing from him,’’ Dooley said, “other than an inability to make yards.”
“I don’t think he’s running with any conviction and I told him that.’’
Oku did not touch the ball during a three-game stretch in October.
“I mean, everybody was wondering what was going on,” Oku said in a November interview with the News Sentinel. “But Coach Dooley felt like I wasn’t doing good. Down the stretch a little bit, he felt like just not playing me for a second would get me back going right. I guess it worked out, so you can’t argue with it.
“I mean, as a player you don’t see it. But I guess coaches see it sometimes different. I was wondering myself what happened. I didn’t go in and question it or ask any questions or anything like that. I was just like, ‘All right, ride it out and see what happens.’ That’s basically just what happened.”
Oku had a brief revival in a Nov. 20 game at Vanderbilt, when he caught a 34-yard pass out of the backfield, but never really threatened to rekindle the high school magic that prompted most major programs in the country to offer him a scholarship.
Oku left the team for more than a week during Music City Bowl practice for two family funerals. He returned shortly before the team departed to Nashville, but did not touch the ball in UT’s 30-27 double overtime loss to North Carolina.
Oku is the sixth player signed by Kiffin who is no longer with the team. Brown, defensive back Mike Edwards, wide receiver James Green, defensive back Darren Myles and wide receiver Nu’Keese Richardson are the others.
Oku’s departure leaves the Vols even thinner at running back than they anticipated heading into the 2011 season. UT returns just two tailbacks with significant experience, Tauren Poole and Neal, along with Toney Williams, who carried the ball five times for 11 yards as a redshirt freshman.
Apopka, Fla., running back Tom Smith (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) and Bearden’s Devrin Young (5-7, 156) have committed to sign in 2011, and the Vols are certainly looking to add another tailback to the class by National Signing Day on Feb. 2