"In college you can make a touchdown and the coach says, 'What are you doing? I don't care that you scored; what are you doing?' Then at the end he'll say, 'Good job on the score,' but that's like a side comment. Everything else you get yelled out for."
With a smile, he added: "But I think that's a real good thing. It's helped me become a better player."
Apparently so, because Oku doesn't get "yelled out" much these days. He is more inclined to get singled out. That was the case following Saturday night's scrimmage, when he led all rushers with 65 yards on seven carries (9.3 yards per rush) and turned a swing pass into a 34-yard touchdown.
"David's a little squirt-back kid who has done a lot of good things," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I think David has a big role in our offense."
Apparently, that role will be as chief backup to junior Tauren Poole in Tennessee's tailback rotation. Both are having exceptional preseason camps.
"I like the philosophy Coach (Derek) Dooley is bringing and the toughness he's bringing," Oku said. "I think our team is shaping up real good, and the things we're doing right now are helping us as far as pushing each other."
Saturday night's 34-yard touchdown reception showed he can contribute as a receiver, as well as a runner.
"I just have to take advantage of every opportunity I'm given and make the best of it," Oku said. "Coach Dooley said I had an all right spring but that I need to have a better fall camp. I love my role and I'm making the best of it."
Oku was rated America's No. 9 tailback prospect by Scout.com after rushing for 5,802 career yards and 72 touchdowns at Carl Albert High of Midwest City, Okla. Stuck behind Montario Hardesty and Bryce Brown last fall, however, he rushed for just 94 yards on 23 carries as a Vol freshman.
Oku has added 15 pounds since arriving at UT last summer and now goes 5-10 and 195. He'll need that added bulk to hold off redshirt freshman Toney Williams (6-1, 214) and true freshman Rajion Neal (5-11, 215) for the backup job behind Poole. Oku relishes the competition, however.
"Me and Tauren are going to keep battling Toney and Rajion," he said. "When competition comes, you see who'll keep pushing and who'll give in. I think it's a good competition that helps us a lot towards bettering ourselves as running backs."
Oku's added bulk also has enabled him to upgrade his pass-protecting skills. He admits that was a glaring weakness one year ago.
"I came a long way. Last year I couldn't block a soul during camp," he said. "That's one of the things Coach Dooley was talking about - toughness and gaining weight. This is a whole different level than high school, and that's one of the things I've done to become a better player."