Hefney gets a laugh out of returns

You can tell by the pearly whites whether Tennessee is having success on special teams.

Jonathan Hefney has been known to laugh while returning punts.

A smile flashes across the face of LaMarcus Coker when he's in the clear.

Football is meant to be fun, and if you're laughing, things must be going well.

Hefney is an accomplished punt returner. His first runback in a UT uniform was for a touchdown, although nullified by a penalty. The past two years, he's been one of the SEC leaders, averaging 11.5 yards as a sophomore and 12.1 as a junior.

Last season, he set up a touchdown with a 65-yard return against South Carolina.

He racked up 104 return yards in a 3-point win over Alabama.

The most exciting thing about returning punts?

``Scoring touchdowns and seeing someone get crack blocked while you're running,'' Hefney said. ``I laugh. I've been laughing and running at the same time. I used to do that as a kid.''

He did that against Alabama last season and it cost him. He broke away but was tackled in the open field by, of all people, the punter.

``I ran into the punter because I was laughing,'' Hefney said. ``Coach (John) Chavis was like, `What happened?' I said, `I ain't seen him.' But I was really laughing.''

Hefney's propensity to giggle while he works started as a youngster when he played sandlot football in Rock Hill, S.C.

``If somebody got crack blocked, I was always laughing,'' Hefney said. ``If I juke somebody, I'm always laughing ‘cause I'm goofy.

``I don't know why, I just think it's funny when I see somebody get hit that hard and I'm running the ball.''

Being goofy has its merits as a return man.

``To return punts, you've got to be a little bit goofy and crazy at the same time because if you aren't, you're not gonna wanna catch the ball,'' Hefney said. ``You're going to get scared when people are breathing down your throat and you're trying to catch the ball at the same time.

``That's why I don't do fair catches.''

Hefney hasn't found the end zone on a punt return since his freshman season, when his first runback was nullified by penalty.

``I've been pretty much shut down since,'' he said. ``But I love seeing the crowd go crazy, especially here at Neyland Stadium. The first punt return I ran back for a touchdown, it was like the best feeling in the world.''

Coker knows that feeling. He broke an 89-yard touchdown run against Marshall after not getting any carries in the previous two games. And he broke into a grin.

``When you know you're pretty much gone, you get a smile on your face,'' Coker said. ``I did it a few times last year. In the Marshall game, I know I was cheesing the whole way.''

He would feel the same way if he broke a kick return.

``One of the strong points of my game is my breakaway speed,'' Coker said.

While Tennessee has been dangerous on punt returns, the Vols were ``terrible'' on kick returns, according to coach David Cutcliffe.

If Tennessee struggles returning kicks this season, would Hefney like to do it?

``No,'' he said.

That's surprising coming from a guy who once said he wanted to lead the team in tackles and interceptions and even receptions – if they'd let him play offense.

Hefney just doesn't see himself as a kick returner.

``You gotta be real fast to return kickoffs,'' Hefney said. ``I like Coker to do it. I want to see Brent Vinson and Kenny O'Neal do it. I'm all right, but they're fast.''

Hefney said he put O'Neal on a video game returning kicks and ``he was a monster.''

Was O'Neal better at kick returns on video than Hefney at punt returns?

``Nah, I'm a beast on the game returning punts,'' Hefney said. ``My little niece told me about it. She was playing the video game and she was like, `Man, I scored three touchdowns with you.'''

``I was like, `All right. I like that.''

He said it with a smile.


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