Road to redemption

For one Tennessee Vol, the road to redemption ran from Pellissippi State Community College to the University of Tennessee.

Demetrice Morley, banished to Pellissippi after flunking out of UT, spent a lot of time last summer wondering how much he'd miss his teammates and how much they would miss them. But he never wondered about his future. Not once did the thought cross his mind that he might never again be a Vol.

"Nah. There was no time," he says. "I knew the first minute I left what I had to do. It was all my fault. I had to get back on my feet and do the right things, and those were the things I did."

Plucked out of talent-rich Miami, Morley was one of the most heralded signees in Tennessee's 2005 recruiting class. He started 10 games as a sophomore in 2006 and established himself as a big-play guy, recording seven tackles for loss and a 31-yard interception return for touchdown against LSU.

Just when he appeared to be on the verge of stardom, however, his indifference toward classwork led to a year in academic exile across town at Pellissippi.

Although Morley deserves a lot of credit for raising his grades and resurrecting his career, he had considerable help.

"I had a lot of teammates supporting me during the process when I was out of school – Eric Berry, Antonio Wardlow, Ricardo Kemp," Morley notes. "Some of those guys aren't here with us now but those are the guys that really kept up with me.

"I also called a bunch of guys – Vlad (Richard), Demonte (Bolden), Big Dan (Williams) – and those guys helped me through the process. I really thank them."

Vol coaches and teammates alike say Morley is a different person than the brash and impulsive kid he was in 2005 and '06. Morley senses the changes.

"I think I'm just more mature now," he says, his voice a mixture of regret and determination. "I've grown a lot. I'm not making the mistakes I used to make ... not making the decisions I used to make. I put myself in good decision-making places, where I won't have to be a bad decision-maker. That's about all."

Morley is so intent on making a clean break with his past that he has discarded his old number in favor of a new one.

"It's just a new me," he says. "That's why I changed my number, from 20 to 7. I wanted to be a new person with a new attitude and a new swagger about myself."

To say Morley was missed last fall might be the understatement of the year. Without him, Tennessee's patchwork secondary surrendered more completions and more passing touchdowns than any team in the SEC.

Most of the DBs who were torched on a regular basis in 2007 are back for 2008. Some observers figure they'll be torched again in '08. Others figure the experience should make them one of the NCAA's top defensive backfields. So, which is it: Overrated or underrated?

"I don't know how underrated, overrated – any of the rateds we are," Morley says. "But I know we're going to come out, work hard in camp and be ready for the season. We're not worried about the ratings. We're just going to do the things we have to do, and everything will speak for itself."

Tennessee will face what many consider to be the NCAA's two premier quarterbacks this fall in Florida's Tim Tebow and Georgia's Matthew Stafford. Can the Vols handle those imposing challenges?

"All of the challenges we face are going to be big," Morley answers. "But it's up to us how big the games are going to be and how the games are going to factor out. We just want to play hard and be a tough defense.

"Everybody's excited about the team, and we are, too. We just want to give 110 percent effort and play old Tennessee football."

Without the OLD Demetrice Morley, though.


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