Kemp gets his chance

Had you set out last spring to project who the Tennessee football team's most significant contributors for 2006 might be, you probably would've gotten near the end of the list before mentioning Ricardo Kemp.

Pressed into service at running back, he was listed No. 6 at the position behind Arian Foster, Montario Hardesty, LaMarcus Coker, David Yancey and Ja'Kouri Williams. Stuck behind five guys with more talent and/or experience, the 5-11, 190-pound redshirt freshman from Warren, Ark., seemed destined to spend the entire ‘06 season riding the bench.

As Tennessee's annual showdown with SEC East rival Florida approaches, however, Kemp looms as one of the Vols' key players. Injuries to Roshaun Fellows and Inquoris Johnson have elevated him to second-team status at cornerback. That means he'll see considerable action when defensive coordinator John Chavis utilizes extra defensive backs in his so-called "Mustang Package."

Phillip Fulmer is glad to see Kemp's patience and perseverance pay off.

"Ricardo Kemp is one of the greatest kids on our football team," the head coach said. "He is a fantastic person and has done anything we've asked him to do."

Indeed. Kemp worked as a receiver in 2005 but did not see action. He moved to tailback last spring because Foster, Hardesty and Coker were sidelined by injuries. When all three showed up healthy for preseason camp, Kemp was on the move again … this time to cornerback.

"He was unselfish and moved over there and did a nice job," Fulmer noted. "He has character, toughness and intelligence."

He has talent, too. Just ask fellow cornerback Jonathan Wade, who is one of Kemp's biggest fans.

"He can play," Wade said. "A lot of people will see this weekend how good he is. He's going to be a big help to us."

The Vols will need plenty of help because the Gators have a receiving corps that ranks with the NCAA's fastest.

"Certainly, they've got an explosive offense," Chavis said. "They've got great talent all over the field. I don't know that we'll ever see more speed than we'll see against Florida, when you start looking at their speed at wide receiver."

Oddly enough, the three cornerbacks entrusted with shutting down Florida's speedy wideouts will be a converted receiver (Wade), a converted running back (Kemp) and a converted safety (Jonathan Hefney). Hefney started at free safety in 2005 and the first two games of 2006 before being pressed into first-team duty at cornerback by Johnson's injury. Since Hefney played cornerback in 2004, he isn't a complete stranger to the position.

"We've maintained some things there but he's going to have to adjust a little bit," Chavis said. "He's done a great job at safety, but to get our four best guys on the field that was a move we felt we needed to make.

"I think he'll do fine. He played there (corner) his freshman year and played really well for us. It's been awhile but it's not totally new to him."


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