By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- A year ago, it wasn't a certainty that Marlin Lane would even be in training camp for Tennessee. A season later, not only is Lane in camp, he UT's leading returning rusher and a leader for Team 118.
Lane ran for 938 and four touchdowns in his first two seasons as a Volunteer, but was away from the team during spring practice in 2013, the first for Butch Jones and his staff. Jones, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian and running backs coach Robert Gillespie stayed in constant contact with Lane, helping him through his struggles. Jones called every day, something that helped develop a bond between the two.
Gillespie and Lane formed almost a father-son relationship through the period, something that has grown even stronger in the year since.
"Marlin Lane is what we are here to do," Gillespie said. "What I mean by that is that you will recruit some kids that are already self-sufficient. They come from great environments and everything is perfect. They don't need tutors, study hall or those extra things.
"Marlin Lane is why we coach. He is a kid that football was his way to do something different for his family and himself. Those are the kinds of guys that you want. You want that type of challenge as a coach. That's why you get into it. You take on both sides of it - the great kid but also the kid that needs the extra little effort. He's that kind of kid."
Lane returned to the field for training camp in the summer of 2013 and ran for 534 yards and four TDs while backing up 1,000-yard rusher Rajion Neal. Now, he stands atop the Tennessee depth chart at running back, poised for a strong senior season.
Praise from Gillespie is notably hard to come by, one reason the words resonate so much for Lane.
"That shows that he can trust me a lot and I can take the coaching," Lane said. "Whether it's negative or positive, I'd rather hear more negative stuff so I can work to get better to help the younger guys."
Lane had to make changes in his life to continue building on the success that he experienced once he returned to the field. One of those was choosing to remain in Knoxville during breaks from classes and doing extra work on his own, rather than returning to his Florida home.
"I miss my family more and more, but once I get out on the field, in workouts or in the classroom, I can work extra hard," Lane said. "I feel if I do that, it will give me the opportunity to help my family in a positive way."
"He's a kid that realized that football was going to be his way to change his future, change his life," Gillespie said of the maturity that Lane has shown. "He's done a great job making off the field decisions and a great job in the classroom. Those are really the things that really matter in the end.
"Marlin has wanted to change. He has wanted to change the way people looked at him. Fighting every day to earn respect form his peers and coaching staff and to put a product out there that makes him proud."
A side effect of the determination and commitment he has shown has been his development as a leader on and off the field for the younger players, particularly those in his position group. His maturity as a person, a player and a leader has stood out to fellow fourth-year player Curt Maggitt.
"He's been through a lot growing up and he's really grown and matured over the last two years," Maggitt. A lot of people know what he's done on the field and a lot of people know what he's been through. For him to have as good of a focus and mindset as he does every day is very influential."
Despite his preference to be coached vocally, Lane prefers to show his leadership privately, opting to help his fellow players behind the scenes.
"I pull people to the side and try to talk to them in a positive way," Lane said. "I know it's hard. With the new guys, I just want to help them on the field and off the field to deal with adversity."