Born to run

One Tennessee Vol was born to play running back, a fact he discovered when he was introduced to football at age 5.

"It was because of the way I ran," junior Tauren Poole said following Friday's afternoon practice. "I ran so hard - like I do now ... just in a bigger body."

Poole played fullback initially because he was bigger than most of the other players. By the time he entered Stephens County High School of Toccoa, Ga., however, he had gone from being one of the biggest players on the field to being one of the smallest. That forced him to alter his running style.

"I really did," he said with a laugh. "I used to be a one-cut (runner). Now I get away from the tackles and get in the open field."

Now packing 213 pounds on a 5-11 frame, Poole looks remarkably comfortable at running back. That isn't surprising, considering that he has played the position for 15 of his 20 years. Every move is now second nature to him.

"It becomes instinct," he said. "It feels good because you get in the open field so fast."

Poole averaged a whopping 8.5 yards per carry as a sophomore last season but got just 10 carries because head coach Lane Kiffin had promised significant playing time to heralded freshman Bryce Brown. Poole is getting a lot more respect from new head coach Derek Dooley, who recently praised him for his "incredible work ethic, incredible attitude and tremendous effort."

Poole is both flattered and challenged by such high praise.

"It feels really good but it just sets my standard even higher, so that they (coaches) see me working hard," he said. "That's what I pride myself on - hard work - ever since I've been here. I've got to continue to gain their trust, show them I can run in this offense."

After spending the 2009 season as Tennessee's No. 4 tailback, Poole is solidly entrenched as the No. 1 guy this preseason. He refuses to acknowledge that, however.

"I don't really look at it as being number 1," he said. "No guy is number 1 on this team. We all rotate in and out, so I don't look at it like that. I don't want to be content with where I'm at; I want to keep working and get better."

Dooley considers Poole No. 1 but hopes to find a running mate to serve as 1-A in a two-back system. Poole has no problem with that.

"That feels great," he said. "You're going to get gassed. In this league, the SEC, you need two or three. It feels good to have somebody like Toney (Williams), David (Oku) and Rajion (Neal) in the backfield."

Neal is a 5-11, 215-pound freshman who resembles Poole both in build and running style ... with one notable difference.

"He has incredible quickness," Poole said of the rookie rusher. "He can move well. We're going to have a lot of runners, and that's just going to help this team even more."

Even with "a lot of runners" on hand, Tauren Poole clearly is Tennessee's No. 1 option. Asked what he brings to the lineup, he paused thoughtfully before responding.

"Tenacity, hard work and being an every-down back," he said. "I don't want to be one-dimensional. I want the coach to understand that I'll do anything to be productive in this offense."

Poole won the respect of his teammates last fall due to the class he showed while unfairly being forced to ride the bench. Now that he's finally getting a fair shot at the first-team job, he's determined to make the most of it.

"I'm ecstatic about the opportunity because I didn't get this opportunity (last year), and I've been waiting on this opportunity since I've been here," he said. "I told Tario (2009 starter Montario Hardesty) I was going to pick up the slack for him when he left.

"He just told me to take the throne and keep working hard, don't ever settle for less."

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