Hefney still misses corner

Even after starring at free safety for two years and earning preseason All-America recognition at the position for 2007, one Tennessee Vol misses playing cornerback.

In fact, Jonathan Hefney misses the position so much that he sometimes lines up at there in practice drills ... just to see if anyone will notice. Invariably, someone does.

"Oh, yeah. I try to go out there all the time but they (coaches) won't let me," Hefney said recently, grinning mischievously. "I can do it, man, but they won't let me. I'll be all right, though. I'll get to play it sometime."

He'll get to play corner at the next level most likely. At 5-9 and 185 pounds, he may be too small to play safety in the NFL but he's done a heck of a job as an undersized free safety for the Vols the past two years.

"Jonathan is your playmaker," Vol secondary coach Larry Slade said. "He's gone out in SEC games and made plays. He's got the kind of leadership qualities that are more about 'Look at me and what I'm doing,' rather than rah, rah. He's a guy the others look to."

Hefney is a guy the others look to for comic relief, as well as leadership. The unofficial team clown, he is known for his zany antics and witty one-liners. He is very serious about winning, however, and won't hesitate to chastise a teammate who is slacking.

"He's not going to tolerate guys not playing hard," Slade said. "He'll make a comment in a meeting or he'll get a guy individually and say, 'Look, that's not the way we do things here at Tennessee.'"

After three years as a starter, Hefney basically qualifies as Slade's right-hand man. In fact, he regularly offers input on the Vols' young defensive backs to his position coach.

"Jonathan will come to me and say, 'He ain't ready, Coach. He's a little bit afraid,'" Slade said.

Perhaps the greatest attribute Hefney brings to the Vol secondary is his unwavering confidence. Even the best defensive back is going to get burned occasionally. The good ones, like Hefney, put the experience behind them and bounce back.

"He jokes with the players about that," Slade said. "It becomes a second-nature thing to our secondary: We're going to take some risks but we're going to make some plays and we're going to do some things and have some fun. We want them to have fun in practice and we want them to have fun in games."

With Hefney around, fun is a given.

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