Looking to prove himself

He spent 2005 trying to impress a bunch of Tennessee basketball coaches who knew very little about him. Now he's spending 2006 trying to impress a bunch of Tennessee FOOTBALL coaches who know very little about him.

Pardon Stanley Asumnu if he feels a bit of déjà vu.

Signed five years ago by former UT basketball coach Buzz Peterson, Asumnu spent three undistinguished seasons as an occasional starter on the hardwood. When Bruce Pearl's new staff took the hoops reins last fall, Asumnu got a chance to prove himself to people who had never seen him play. He succeeded, starting half of the games and averaging 8 points in helping the Vols claim the SEC East title.

With his basketball eligibility exhausted, he tried out for the football team last spring. All he asked was an opportunity to prove himself to people who had never seen him play.

"I'm in the same situation," he concedes. "I did a great job (in basketball). It's about having faith in The Lord, staying confident in myself, working hard and staying focused. I'm going to let the basketball carry over to here. I'm still the same Stanley that played on the court. Whatever I can do to possibly help the team, I'm willing to do whatever it is."

This sort of enthusiasm and unselfishness enabled Asumnu to overcome limited shooting range and play a key role for the basketball team last year. Those attributes also might enable him to overcome a long layoff from the gridiron and play a role for the football team this year.

"I haven't put the pads on and played since eighth grade, so it's been awhile," he says, flashing the infectious grin that has helped make him a fan favorite. "And it's totally different at this level. It's been a fun process, though. I'm willing to work, willing to learn, willing to be coachable."

There are some things Asumnu can do without coaching: Jump like a kangaroo, for instance. He soared above a defensive back to snare a 40-yard pass in one spring scrimmage, earning cheers from the few dozen fans in attendance.

"It felt good," he recalls. "It felt like catching an alley-oop and dunking it on the basketball court. To come out my first day in pads and make a big catch like that was a great feeling. It felt good; it really did."

The fact Asumnu played big-time basketball doesn't guarantee he'll be able to play big-time football … but it should improve his odds a bit.

"It's helped me a lot," the 6-5, 210-pounder says. "I know what it feels like to play against really good competition. It's a different type of game out here – more physical, a lot of hitting and things – but I think I'll be all right. I've just got to stay focused, stay confident and continue to work."

He's working, all right. Head coach Phillip Fulmer showed up at the indoor football complex one recent Saturday morning and discovered Asumnu on the practice field – running sprints, catching tennis balls and "sweating profusely." That's determination.

"Stanley, I think, is just a fabulous story," Fulmer says. "He's the kind of young man college athletics is about. He's unselfish, a great worker. Stanley has some limitations because of his inexperience – he hasn't played in a long time – and he has some limitations from understanding because of that inexperience. But he has helped our receiving corps because of his great effort."

Although he is battling to cut into their playing time, UT's veteran receivers have been assisting Asumnu with his transition to the gridiron.

"Jayson Swain, Robert Meachem and those guys have really helped me a lot through the summer, whether it's working on routes, watching film or whatever," he says. "They still give me pointers here and there. I appreciate that. I want to learn. They've been here and done it, so I want to follow their lead."

With only one week of spring practice behind him, Asumnu still has a lot to learn. The playbook, for instance.

"I'm doing a lot better now," he says. "Earlier I didn't know what the plays were. I know my routes now. Just working with Coach Trooper (Taylor) and the other receivers is going to do nothing but help me out."

Asumnu was part of a big turnaround that saw the Basketball Vols go from 14-17 in 2004-05 to 22-8 in 2005-06. With the football team coming off a 5-6 season in 2005, he hopes to be part of another big turnaround this fall.

"My goal, like everybody else's, is to win the SEC East and compete for the SEC title in Atlanta, maybe compete for a national title," he says. "We had to bust our butt in basketball and believe in each other. It's the same thing here. These guys are great. They've accepted me and I enjoy being out here."

And, make no mistake, Phillip Fulmer enjoys having him on the team. The head coach is hoping to find a scholarship and a role for him this fall.

"Can he help us on special teams? Can he be a guy that can go and get a fade route? Can he develop as fast, with a better attitude, as Kelley Washington?" Fulmer asked rhetorically. "I hope he's typical of what our football team is going to be like. I'm encouraged."


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