Coker at crossroads

He has exhibited the talent level to be one of college football's biggest stars ... and he has exhibited the maturity level to be one of its biggest disappointments.

Back from yet another disciplinary suspension, Tennessee tailback LaMarcus Coker is getting a second chance ... or a third ... or a fourth ... or maybe a fifth. But who's counting?

The point is, head coach Phillip Fulmer insists this is Coker's LAST chance. That means the flashy sophomore from Antioch is at the crossroads. Taking the right path could still put him on track to a quality college career. Taking the wrong path could put him on track to join Tony Robinson and the other near-greats whose poor choices destroyed promising careers.

Coker's final chance starts tonight against Southern Miss in Tennessee's 2007 home opener. Will he take advantage of the opportunity? His teammates think so. They say he has shown more maturity in the two weeks since he rejoined the team than he did in the two years previous to that.

"He's much more serious about doing the things he needs to do," tight end Chris Brown said. "He knows he messed up. That's what everybody was hoping he would realize: He messed up on his own. It was no one's fault but his. I think he realized that. He's gone through what he needed to do, and we support him in every way we can."

Coker needs his teammates but they need him, too. His game-breaking speed provides a dimension the Vols lack without him.

"I'm very glad we're getting LaMarcus back," Brown said. "His speed adds a lot to our offense. He gives us that big-play thing. Every time he gets the ball he can go 90 yards in a split-second."

Tennessee entered preseason drills planning to use Coker much the way Southern Cal used Reggie Bush in 2005 ... line him up at tailback and hand him the ball, send him in motion and pitch him the ball, line him up at receiver and throw him the ball, use him as a decoy and watch him attract defenders like a human magnet. He could be a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.

Instead, Coker was his own head man's worst nightmare – a player with superior talent and no discipline.

Perhaps LaMarcus discovered discipline during his month-long exile from the program. If so, he could be a tremendous weapon in the Vols' new no-huddle offense – playing an assortment of positions and providing an assortment of options.

Even without Coker, the no-huddle attack produced 31 points in a season-opening loss to Cal last weekend. With him, there's no telling how explosive the Vols might be.

"I think the no-huddle went really well," Brown said. "We did a lot of things out of it. It's a good thing. I think it was very smooth."

It could be even smoother with LaMarcus Coker involved in it. But only if he's ready to take the right path.

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