"They kind of preached about what they did at USC, what their little policy was," freshman receiver Marsalis Teague recalled this week. "I was thinking to myself, 'Maybe they're just telling me what I want to hear to recruit me.' But once I got up here, it's reality."
Teague, a native Tennessean from Henry County High in Paris, de-committed from Florida to sign with the Vols last February. He hoped for a chance to compete as a rookie but was unsure he'd get one until preseason camp started last week. When a coach ordered him to join the No. 1 offense in a practice drill, he was startled but pleased.
"It's like 'Marsalis, you're in,'" he recalled. "It was the ones (first-teamers) out there, so I'm like, 'Oh, OK. Yeah!'"
Although he is competing for playing time against senior Quintin Hancock, junior Gerald Jones, junior Brandon Warren and sophomore Todd Campbell, Teague says the veterans are being helpful, not resentful.
"Everybody's out there competing for a spot and everybody's encouraging each other," he said. "That's one of the things I love about this program."
Along with fellow freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson and Zach Rogers, Teague was No. 7 in the wideout pecking order when he arrived at UT last June, stuck behind the four veterans mentioned above, plus senior Austin Rogers and junior Denarius Moore. When Rogers tore an ACL, the rookies moved up to No. 6. When Moore was sidelined by a foot problem the very next day, the rookies moved up to No. 5. A day later, when Gerald Jones was deemed questionable for the opener due to a slow-healing wrist injury, the rookies moved up to No. 4.
"That was kind of crazy," Teague recalled. "We had three guys down like boom, boom, boom. You're like, 'Is this really happening?' At the same time we had to stay focused and keep moving on."
Although Jones is practicing full-speed and appears likely to play in Game 1, the absence of Rogers and Moore leaves UT somewhat thin at the wideout positions.
"As a receiving corps, we get pretty winded in practice because we're few in number right now," Teague conceded. "But everybody's encouraging each other, even the guys that are hurt. They're still in the meeting rooms - talking to us, helping us, trying to coach us up on what we should do in our assignments and our routes."
With Rogers out for the season and Moore looking increasingly doubtful for Game 1, Teague is almost certain to play in the Vol opener. If so, he'll know those assurances he got from UT coaches last winter weren't just recruiting rhetoric, after all.