Furlow's mission

Persistence might be paying off for Tennessee walk-on cornerback Derrick Furlow of Crossett, Ark.

Furlow was an outstanding high school running back who gained 1,100 yards and led his team to a 12-1 record as a junior. He played against Darren McFadden, a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up, and impressed enough talent evaluators to be recruited by Georgia, Arkansas and Tennessee.

But then fate played an ugly card.

During Arkansas' football camp before his senior year, Furlow jumped for a ball and came down wrong, tearing an anterior cruciate ligament. It wasn't discovered for three months. He went in to have his knee scoped and came out with a repaired ACL.

That was the beginning of his problems.

Because of the ACL, Furlow couldn't play his senior season.

As you might expect, recruiters backed off like he had the plague.

Suddenly, he was a man without a scholarship. But not without dreams.

Furlow decided to walk on at Tennessee three years ago, appreciating the way he was recruited by Tennessee assistants Steve Caldwell and Larry Slade.

This spring, Furlow has been one of the most pleasant surprises on the team, displaying a rock-solid ability to tackle and doing a decent job in pass coverage.

``He's gotten better and better,'' Caldwell said of the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder. ``He's a very intelligent kid. He makes up for maybe not having as much athletic ability with his intelligence.

``He has impressed me. He's doing a great job tackling.''

Furlow has come a long way, considering he could hardly walk four years ago.

Furlow was among the 105 who came to Tennessee's August camp in 2006, but he was limited.

``He limped around for about two years,'' Caldwell recalled.

He's not limping now. He's playing like a man capable of making the defensive back rotation.

Caldwell has a special affection for Furlow because the coach knows what could have been.

``If he hadn't gotten hurt,'' Caldwell said, ``he would have signed with somebody. Everyone was looking at him after his junior year of high school.''

Caldwell saw enough film on Furlow to believe he could eventually help the Vols if he recovered from the knee injury. And Furlow played in an area of South Arkansas where Caldwell has recruited well, signing Ricardo Kemp, Bret Smith and Roshaun Fellows.

Without a doubt, the torn ACL robbed Furlow of his speed, Caldwell said.

``He's starting to get it back,'' Caldwell said. ``He's faster than he's been since he's been here and he's playing faster.''

Furlow had 13 tackles in UT's Saturday scrimmage. He had the stop of the day when he nailed 6-foot-6 tight end Luke Stocker after a shot pass. He also tackled Gerald Jones in the open field after a bubble screen pass.

``They were pretty good licks,'' said the well-spoken Furlow. ``It felt good. I'm just out there trying to have fun and flying around and making plays. I'm trying to do what I've got to do to get on the bus.''

That means make the travel squad.

It won't be easy. UT takes only 70 to away SEC games. But he could make the season opener at UCLA on Sept. 1.

In part because of injuries to other players, Furlow has been working with the No. 2 unit at corner. He has been impressive in all three Saturday scrimmages leading up to this weekend's spring game.

Does he think he's earned a spot with the second team?

``I think I got a spot wherever they put me,'' he said. ``I'm just trying to get on the bus.''

Furlow began his UT career at safety but has since moved to corner.

``I'm as comfortable as I can get,'' said Furlow. ``Everybody out there competes and makes big plays. Once you get around them guys (defensive backs) everybody steps it up. It's all about having fun and doing what you're capable of doing.''

UT has had some outstanding position-player walk-ons through the years. Two of the most notable were receiver Kelley Washington, who is in the NFL with the New England Patriots, and Knoxville product J.J. McCleskey, who played receiver and cornerback.

It's doubtful Furlow will ever make that kind of impact, but he has caught Caldwell's eye.

``He's done a great job,'' Caldwell said. ``We've got to keep looking at him and see how it goes. He's going to help us somewhere. There's a chance he'll help us on special teams.

``He deserves the attention he's getting.''

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