Marsalous 'not guilty'

To say that calendar year 2007 is shaping up to be a much better one for University of Tennessee football player Marsalous Johnson than 2006 just might be the understatement of the year thus far.

Johnson, a rising sophomore from Smyrna, was judged to be not guilty of assault Friday in Putnam County Circuit Court, ending a legal ordeal that had dragged on for 10 months. The verdict comes one month after he won the Andy Spiva Award as the Most Improved Defensive Player of spring practice.

"I am really happy for Marsalous and his family," Vol head coach Phillip Fulmer said in a statement released by the university. "They have been through a lot of heartache and emotion through all of this. Marsalous is a fine young man who has taken direction from his fine parents, teachers and coaches through the years. Marsalous understands high expectations, especially those expected of student-athletes at the University of Tennessee."

Marsalous Johnson was arrested in July of 2006 and charged with aggravated assault after allegedly waving a gun at an off-duty policeman as both parties were driving along a Tennessee interstate. The fact the gun proved to be a toy eventually helped get the charge reduced from aggravated assault to simple assault.

After numerous delays, the case finally went to court on Friday. Although Johnson was not penalized by the jury, he was penalized by his head coach. Shortly after learning of the toy-gun incident, Fulmer suspended him for the first four games of the 2006 season.

"I am certain he has learned a great life lesson," Fulmer said. "I may have been hard on him, but at the time I felt it was the right thing to do."

Although Johnson's suspension was lifted after four games last fall, he did not play in Game 5 and saw only mop-up duty the rest of the season. He finished 2006 with two tackles, with one of those coming on special teams

Fortunately for Johnson, 2007 has been a much more rewarding experience than 2006. He was one of the breakout players of spring practice, beating out senior Roshaun Fellows (since dismissed from the team) for a first-team cornerback job en route to earning the Most Improved award. Putting his lengthy legal matter behind him clearly qualifies as another positive step.

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