Tennessee running back Tauren Poole talks Thursday at SEC Media Days
The story hasn't changed, only the scope of it.
Once upon a time not all that long ago, it was two blue-chip recruits stealing attention — and playing time — seemingly just because they came with so much hype.
After one transferred, after winning the job from the other before he left the program as well and then heading into a senior season with some personal momentum, the theme remains the same.
Tauren Poole is now unquestionably the focus at running back for Tennessee, but the chip on his shoulder remains squarely in place thanks to a league so deep at his position that he was just barely able to sneak on the media's preseason all-conference squad — on the third-team, with the fewest votes of any player to earn the honor. But that hardly seemed to bother Poole at SEC Football Media Days on Thursday, as he only smiled at questions about the Year of the Running Back, his place in it and the chance to continue the theme of his career with another chapter.
"I'm not on a lot of lists, and that's OK," Poole said. "It's been like that my whole life. Coming out of high school I wasn't on a lot of lists, and that's OK, because that's the type of guy that I am.
"I've always been underrated, but I've just got to prove a lot. Right now in everybody else's opinion, I'm not very high (in the rankings). But in my own opinion, I feel like I'm a better back. I'm a great back."
Those aren't exactly rare commodities in the SEC this season, and Poole is always quick to offer his respect for the others that have made it hard for him to get much recognition this summer.
The league has two ready-made Heisman Trophy candidates in South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore and Alabama's Trent Richardson. The second-team rushers as voted by the media both piled up at least 1,000 yards last season, including the leading returner at the position in Knile Davis of Arkansas, who put up 1,322 yards with 13 touchdowns.
But the overall strength of the league might best be revealed by players like Poole, who carried the ball 204 times behind an inexperienced line in his first season as an every-down back for 1,034 yards and 11 touchdowns. Perhaps if the senior had more than 32 combined attempts in his first two seasons or hadn't been cast aside so quickly when Bryce Brown and David Oku were hailed as the future at UT, Poole might already be a more established brand-name back.
Although, that doesn't really fit all that well with the plot.
"I told Tauren that (South Carolina coach Steve) Spurrier said he had the best back in the league," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "I told him I agreed with him. He just smiled and said, 'I heard that, coach.'
"Tauren is everything you want in a player from his drive to be the best. I wish we had 100 Tauren Pooles. ... He's got good size and speed for his position. He was inconsistent last year, but he was productive as a whole — and I think a lot of things go into that. No. 1, it was his first year playing. He wants to do well so bad, it took him awhile to get settled into the position."
The Vols also didn't have all that much support for him offensively, starting with the youth up front and including the lack of consistent help from a backup. Poole isn't blameless either, and he had well-documented issues with trying too often to bust a big run when a small one would have been good enough and occasional problems finding the right hole or cut.
But the offensive line is returning virtually intact from a year ago and should be much improved. UT has a quarterback in place with Tyler Bray that could take some pressure off the running game with his big arm. And Poole is coming back with a full season under his belt and, as usual, something to prove.
"I like to see the competition, that's what I'm all about is competing," Poole said. "I watch highlights and learn from each and every guy. I'm not a jealous guy, and I pretty much notice everything those guys do. I'm just saying to myself, 'What do those guys do that I don't do?'
"We all bring different things to the table."It's all set now for a feast thanks to the running backs, and there might not be anybody hungrier than Poole.