Freshmen David Oku has proven in his first year as a Volunteer that he is not only a team player, but a quietly consistent contributor.
Despite less than a year of experience, the young runner has shown a sense of maturity and patience beyond his years.
"A lot of people can complain about playing, but the way I look at it is I'm just happy," Oku said. "I just thank Coach Kiffin for putting the trust in me.
"It's not disappointing at all."
The all-purpose back has been used primarily on kick-offs, where he has racked up 780 yards on 30 returns, an average of 26 yards per return, with a long of 69.
No other Volunteer has more than two kick returns on the season.
Improvement has been the main facet of Oku's game, with his average kick returns climbing from 18.7 yards in his first four games to 29.65 in the final eight.
In the first four games, Oku posted only one return over 28 yards, while returning 10 kicks of more than 28 throughout the remainder of the season.
It took the notice of a teammate to make Oku aware of his true contribution to the team over the season.
"I was reading something the other day, and then somebody said something to me after I read it like ‘you know you're second on the team in all-purpose yards right?'" Oku said. "I was surprised, I kind of felt like I wasn't doing enough. I'm just real hard on myself."
The only Volunteer with more all-purpose yards than Oku is starting running back Montario Hardesty, with 1,306 yards.
With the big stage looming on New Year's Eve, Oku couldn't hide his excitement when discussing playing in the bowl game.
"I don't know what to think though, playing in the Georgia Dome," Oku said. "Usually you only play this on the video games. I can't wait to see what it's like."
The Volunteers worked extensively on kick returns on Sunday at their practice location on Decatur High School's football field, with Oku pairing with Eric Berry as returnees.
The freshman scored a few whoops and hollers from the sidelines after breaking through defenders into open field twice in the morning.
"I think we worked kick return a lot harder up towards the end of this year," Oku said. "I put most of it on me to take one to the house."
Taking one to the house will be a much tougher challenge for Oku than practice squad kickoffs, when the Volunteers face off against a Virginia Tech team that prides itself on outstanding special teams play.
"We watched them, we've seen them," Oku said. "We understand that special teams is a key point for us winning the game. It's all about execution."
Preparation for the Virginia Tech game has differed for Oku, after the Volunteers lost special teams and running backs coach Eddie Gran in early December, who accepted a similar position at Florida State.
"It's still good, we haven't missed a beat," Oku said. "Our coaches are working with us, which is through coach Chaney. Preparation is good."
With only one game remaining, number 27 seems as prepared as ever to graduate from freshman infancy and move into a much bigger spotlight in Knoxville.
"As far as freshman year goes it's been great, it went by real fast though," Oku said. "In the last game of the season you just want to give it all you got, get a good finish."
For the hungry freshman, that spotlight could shine down from the roof of the Georgia Dome as early as kickoff Thursday night.