Marlin Lane feels like an old soul in a young body. The Tennessee Volunteers' top running back is just a sophomore, but exudes the focus and poise of a senior. While the passing game is rightfully getting most of the attention on offense, Lane's ability to move the ball the traditional way is perhaps the biggest x-factor of the 2012 season.
So who is this guy? What do we need to know? Lane's story is an interesting one whose ending is far from being realized. Though only entering his second year, this fall could be a pivotal season for Tennessee's No. 15.
By December of 2009, Lane had carried the ball 112 times for 1,110 yards and 12 touchdowns during his junior year at Florida's Mainland High School. Averaging 9.9 yards per carry, his contribution could be likened to that of former Florida running back Chris Rainey—a legitimate home run hitter.
But on the doorstep of the offseason before his senior year—bound to be filled with All-State and All-American honors—he suffered a torn ACL that derailed his high school finale.
Could Lane have proven to be a workhorse back his last year at Mainland? We'll never know. We're still waiting for that answer.
Though limited to only five games his senior year, Lane rushed 45 times for 601 yards and six touchdowns. Even with a shortened season, his tremendous talent earned him a consensus 4-star rating by ESPN, Rivals and Scout.
As a top 20 running back prospect, Lane garnered college offers from Alabama, Florida State and USC, but it was Clemson who had Lane's commitment for nearly three years. A self-admitted lifelong fan of the Tigers, Lane even had a paw print tattoo on his shoulder.
But after being given an ultimatum—show up for your official visits to Clemson or have your scholarship offer revoked—he chose the latter and became a "free agent" in January of 2011, late in the recruiting game.
He visited Miami and Tennessee during the closing weeks, narrowing his decision to "Rocky Top, the. Hurricanes, Auburn or Florida State."
Maybe the decision to use Tennessee's beloved nickname or the fact that he placed the Vols first in his list should've tipped fans off, but it was nevertheless exciting when Lane chose Derek Dooley at Tennessee and helped the Volunteers to a 13th-ranked recruiting class in 2011.
After a strong junior season at Tennessee, rising senior Tauren Poole was the unquestioned starter for the 2011 squad. Lane was going to see ample time as a backup and on third downs, but Poole was going to lead by example for the freshman, a college team's dream.
Unfortunately, Poole never found his footing in 2011 and Lane was consistently thrown into the mix with an out-of-rhythm offensive line.
There were flashes of Lane's brilliance, though, and he had his best production in the Vols' toughest games. He caught a game-high six passes for 84 yards against Georgia; he tallied an excellent 7.2 yards per carry and an 18-yard run against LSU; At No. 8 Arkansas, Lane had a 45-yard scamper (a season-long for the Vols) and averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
Clearly, Lane shows up in the biggest moments. That's a habit that he needs to keep in 2012 as the featured back.
With Poole gone for the NFL (hoping to pull an "Arian Foster"), Lane is the man in the backfield for the Vols. Besides him, Tennessee has Raijon Neal, Tom Smith and Devrin Young as the only other viable tailback options with experience.
Perhaps Lane's only rival for starting time later in the season will be freshman Davante Bourque, whose athleticism was recognized by such schools as LSU and Texas A&M. Joining Bourque as newcoming running backs are Quenshaun Watson and Alden Hill, both quality backs that could be producers in the coming years.
The vaunted 2012 Volunteer passing attack fits perfectly with Lane's low carry, high-yardage production pattern. Tyler Bray, Justin Hunter, Da'Rick Rogers and Cordarelle Patterson need to do their jobs in stretching the defense as much as possible.
That will help Lane burst through wide open holes created by the loosened defense due to the passing game and a deep, talented and experienced offensive line.
The story of Marlin Lane has barely begun and can still end on a good or bad note. Now, with more than two-and-a-half years having past since his knee surgery, Lane is certainly at full strength, running behind a powerful offensive line and working with a potent passing attack. This is his chance to come into his own.
So what more do you need to know about Marlin Lane? You need to know if he can literally carry the Vols' rushing game to big wins over rivals, the likes of which fans haven't seen in five years. That would be a nice way to extend this story.