Parker: Spring break with no mistake

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One hunk of time away from campus in the books. One giant thumbs up for the Tennessee football program.

Flashback to April 2010.

First-year head coach Derek Dooley preaches to his Volunteers about staying out of trouble, finishing strong academically and taking the right approach with the summer months following the Orange & White game.

Queue up Darren Myles Jr. to completely ignore Dooley's pleas, get hammered drunk, disturb some peace and resist arrest.

Myles was part of a deep and plentiful pool of signees under Lane Kiffin's tenure that embarrassed the university, the program and the fan base.

Say what you will about Dooley's time on Rocky Top, but he cleaned up much of that mess, including removing starters like Myles, Montori Hughes, Janzen Jackson and Da'Rick Rogers from the roster when they broke the rules.

Most of Kiffin's recruits are gone. Some remain but players like Channing Fugate and Greg King aren't the type to put a black mark on the program.

Version 2.13 of the Volunteers, led by first-year coach Butch Jones, appears to be picking up where Dooley's left off in terms of avoiding the police blotter of the local fishwrap, which publishes each and every transgression from being careless on a jet ski to being too loud on the Cumberland Strip.

Whether it was partaking in a Caribbean cruise, checking out overrun spring break getaway spot Panama City Beach or venturing further east to St. Johns, Fla., to see family, the Tennessee players made full use of their spring break time.

Some scenes involve bead exchange, trips to dance clubs lasting deep into the night, swimsuit contests, body piercing, excessive alcohol consumption, etc. In short, there's ample opportunity to make bad decisions.

When players are absent from practice, it sends up a red flag. Running back Marlin Lane wasn't at Tuesday morning's workout. Was he in a drunk tank? Holding cell? Passed out someplace?

Answer: D. — None of the above.

Quarterback Nathan Peterman is one of several Vols on the roster that has more of a history with Bible study than piling up felonies.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
The rising junior was in Florida tending to a family matter.

"He's had some health issues within his family and he wanted to be there for them," Jones said.

Even as numerous members of the Orange & White partied amongst fans of opposing Southeastern Conference schools, they returned to Knoxville void of publicized mishaps.

"We ask so much of these student-athletes, you know, taking a full course load at a great academic institution like Tennessee," Jones said after Tuesday's practice. "And, all of a sudden from that to going into spring football and going through monumental changes in your program and expectations and then the scrutiny. You know, I think that's one of the things that attracts individuals to come to Tennessee is you want to play in the spotlight, you want to play in the media capital of the world when it comes to college football, you come to the University of Tennessee. So there's so much and then their personal life. I think a lot of times we miss the picture that these are still 17- to 21-22-year-old individuals. That's why everything we do in our football program is based off of family."

Quarterback Nathan Peterman was joined by linebacker Kenny Bynum, wide receiver Jason Croom and tight end Justin King for a trip to his hometown in the Sunshine State. The quartet of second-year Vols have been close since they arrived on campus, so their road tripping together is of no surprise.

"It was good having those guys there with me. We threw a few times and then ran on the beach too, got a little beach workout," Peterman said.

Some players did admit that they didn't exactly break down film of Oregon's offense or increase their max bench press while vacationing. However, Jones singled out Croom as someone who was noticeably better.

"I thought he came back from spring break, I could tell he got into his play book, he ran over break and I really liked the way he approached practice today," Jones said.

Peterman, who also redshirted last fall, knows Croom as well as anyone on the roster and praised his teammate.

"Jason is a very hard worker; I noticed it today. I went up to him and told him, 'Hey man, you're looking great,' I can tell the renewed sense of pride and sense of focus that he had," Peterman said.

Thrusting the break into the middle of the spring season isn't something many Division I coaches support but Jones continues to speak positively about having the six practices before the break with the eight coming after, plus the Orange & White game at Neyland Stadium on April 20.

After the "mental break" to allow players to "recalibrate" themselves — and with no media asking about arrests or suspensions — the focus can and has returned to continuous improvement.

"I have liked the way our players have come back and the way they approached coming back so far. I think they're energized," said Jones, who held a team meeting Sunday to assure that everyone was back in Knoxville on time.

"Everybody came in with a renewed sense of optimism and focus," said Peterman, who joined his classmates to double as a crew of movers while on break.

Crazy. Who'd have thought that simply not getting arrested would be so easy?

Janzen Jackson squandered a golden opportunity in Knoxville after making some life-changing mistakes.

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the InsideTennessee team July 2011.

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