EL PASO, Texas — Nick Lamaison's life isn't where he envisioned it when he transferred to Tennessee three-plus years ago with a goal of becoming the Vols' quarterback of the future.
All that died quickly following a redshirt season in 2009 with Tennessee's coaching change that sent him back to California and Mount San Antonio College. It appears he's found a home as the starting quarterback at Texas El Paso.
Through the eyes of a dreaming 20-year-old from Walnut, Calif., the past two years might seem like an exile from the spotlight of the SEC to one college football outpost to another. After living it, Lamaison is happy and at peace with where he is now.
"Going back to junior college, it was a risk," said the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Lamaison, who returned from a separated shoulder in a 49-42 loss to Houston
on Sept. 29. "If something had happened to me, God forbid, there would have been nowhere to go.
"I've been blessed with good fortune and ability, a will to succeed. Sometimes I entertain that thought (what would have happened if he had stayed at Tennessee), everything that might have been, but I'm where I'm supposed to be.
"I have a real appreciation for where I am."
UTEP (2-3, 0-2 Conference USA) has an appreciation for him. He won a four-way battle to be the starter and established himself in the 31-24 season-opening victory against Stony Brook by completing 24 of 38 passes for 365 yards and three TDs. The junior had a strong opening half against SMU before separating his shoulder. He missed two games and returned against Houston to throw for 267 yards and three touchdowns.
Lamaison even attributes part of his success to his season in Knoxville with former coach Lane Kiffin.
"I've taken a lot of things I learned there in the film room," he said. "I was around great coaches, I picked up a lot of things I've taken to UTEP.
"I'm not bitter toward Tennessee, I understand the situation, I had to do what was best. I've really bonded with my teammates here and I'm the happiest I've ever been."
The only disappointment Lamaison's expressed with Tennessee was not being released from his scholarship by new coach Derek Dooley after the 2009 season, which was what led him back to junior college instead of transferring to another four-year school, where he would have had to sit out another year.
Still, he led the Mounties to a 13-0 season and was the MVP in the California state championship game as Mt. SAC won the national championship for the second consecutive year. He finished the season with 3,993 yards with 30 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In 2008, the Mounties finished 13-1, losing in the state-title game as Lamaison finished the season with 3,479 yards, 36 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
"I really had a chip on my shoulder (from 2008), coming so close that year and then we didn't win it," Lamaison said. "Going back and winning it, It was a storybook ending. That's something I'll take with me the rest of my life."
That caught the eye of UTEP, which needed immediate help at quarterback.
Lamaison then caught the eyes of his teammates with his work ethic and leadership.
"He came in and did so well, bonding with the team, getting comfortable," said tailback Joe Banyard, a team captain. "He kind of reminds me of myself: He's always in the weight room, always in the film room."