The 6-0 190-pounder from Hampton, Va., went from budding star to blooming idiot in 2008, however. An assortment of off-field problems – many of them related to academics – got him in head coach Phillip Fulmer's doghouse and kept him there for much of his sophomore season. As a result, he finished with zero starts, just 13 tackles and 1 pass breakup.
Having already squandered one season of eligibility due to a lack of discipline, Vinson is determined to show UT's new staff a new level of dedication in 2009.
"You have to give respect to the coaches," he said. "No coaches tolerate much. I'm going to try to do the best I can do to make sure I don't give 'em a reason (to doubt his commitment)."
Whether Vinson is ready to fulfill the mind-boggling potential he exhibited as a true freshman remains to be seen, of course. Talent without maturity is useless, but he says he grew up some while enduring the trials of 2008.
"A lot," he said. "Basically, I'm just buying into what my coaches are saying and trying to do everything in my power to stay on track. It will transfer onto the field because I'm a witness that if things off the field aren't right – you've got distractions – it can affect on the field, no matter how much talent you have.
"I'll just try to limit my mistakes and make sure I buy into what the coaches are doing this year."
After a year in Fulmer's doghouse, Vinson is getting a fresh start under the new coaching staff. All he wants is a chance to compete.
"It's always been about competition, whether it's high school or college," he said. "If you don't have competition, guys don't get better. Guys shouldn't be comfortable in the spots they're in. They should have somebody coming after their spots at all times. That's what Coach Lane wants us to keep in mind: Don't never get too comfortable.
"He doesn't care if you were a 3-star or a 5-star coming out of high school. He's all about competition and what you do on the field and off the field."
What Brent Vinson does on the field has never been at issue. What he does off the field has been. Still, he says the new staff is giving him a clean slate and making him feel that his past transgressions are forgotten.
"The coaches are doing a good job of making all of the players feel comfortable," he said. "They tell the players that if you ever want to talk, feel free to come in ... even if they're having meetings or something like that.
"I guess that's been the upside to it. All of the coaches make all of the players feel comfortable."