Hefney to return punts

Tennessee's search for a punt return specialist apparently has ended where it began.

Jonathan Hefney, who handled the job for part of the 2004 season, is getting a second chance. He's also part of a four-man rotation that will share the kickoff return duties.

"It looks like I'm going to return punts," Hefney said Monday evening. "I want to go out and prove I can do it. I think I can do a pretty good job, handling the situations and making big plays for the team."

As a freshmen last fall, Hefney returned the first punt he fielded for a touchdown, only to have the runback nullified by a penalty. He'll never forget the experience, though.

"Yeah, I ran it back for a touchdown but it was called back," he recalled. "I was nervous. It was my first time taking the field, so I was kinda' running scared."

Still, he remembers the excitement he felt sprinting into the end zone … BEFORE he saw the penalty flag.

"Hopefully," he said, "I can do that (find the end zone) a lot this year."

Hefney starred as a return specialist in practices and scrimmages last fall but fizzled in games, averaging a paltry 5.0 yards per runback. The obvious question: Why did he look so good in practice and so bad in games?

"I think it was just that I was nervous last year," he said. "I've grown up more now. I know more what to do on returns."

A 5-10, 180-pounder with great quickness and shifty moves, Hefney also projects to be one of Tennessee's chief kickoff return men.

"We're rotating on kickoffs – me, Robert Meachem, Chris Hannon and Inky Johnson," he said.

Meachem and Hannon are first-team receivers. Johnson is a second-team cornerback. Hefney is the first-team free safety this fall after earning Freshman All-America honors as a cornerback in 2004.

What's the key to being a good punt return man?

"You have to set everybody up," Hefney replied. "You have to set your blocks up, then hit it. You can't hesitate, and that's what I was doing last year."

So, what's the key to being a good kickoff return man?

"It's the same thing," he said, "but you have to hit the hole even harder because they (coverage men) are coming down a whole lot harder on kickoff returns."

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