The hopes and expectations for Jonathan Crompton started to develop long before he ever dawned the number 8 for the Vols. The current Tennessee signal caller is from Waynesville, NC and drew early comparisons to fellow NC native and Vol QB Heath Shuler. Crompton also worked for Shuler while in high school, which only fueled the comparisons more.
Shuler, now a U.S. Congressman, was almost an instant star at Tennessee when he burst onto the scene in 1992 as a dual thread quarterback before true dual threat quarterbacks were a trend. In 1993, Shuler was the SEC Player of the Year as a Junior, throwing for 25 touchdowns and only 8 interceptions, while leading the Vols to a 10-2 overall record and setting passing marks that would later be broken by Peyton Manning.
Almost every expert and recruiting service that evaluated Crompton made the comparison, and though the number of stars differed with each service, it was unanimous among everyone that Crompton was one of the top quarterbacks in the 2005 class. Coupled with his talent and the fact that everyone knew he would sit for a year or two behind returning starter Erik Ainge, Crompton was set to have a productive career.
All hasn't gone to plan for Crompton, however. Crompton was forced to enter the 2006 LSU game very early because of an ankle injury to Ainge, and was able to keep Tennessee in the game, though the Vols ultimately lost 28-24. Crompton had his moments, hitting two long touchdowns to Robert Meachem, but completed less than 50% of his passes, a problem that has followed him long after that game.
The LSU game, however, gave much promise to some. Crompton's TD passes to Meachem displayed a great arm, and the young quarterback showed great toughness on a 3rd down run when he ran over an LSU defender to get the 1st Down. These highlights, and the fact that LSU was one of the best defenses in the nation, would give Vol fans something to build on when Jon got his turn in 2008.
Bringing in a new Offensive Coordinator in Dave Clawsen brought excitement to UT. David Cutcliffe had left for the Duke vacancy and Clawson was the first major hire outside of the UT "family" in a long time. However, this didn't translate into success. Crompton and the rest of his teammates struggles mightily with the new system, fielding one of the worst offenses in the nation.
Crompton had trouble with everything. His decision making was bad, he couldn't hit simple passes, and found himself turning the ball over way too often. Eventually, Crompton was replaced by Nick Stephens and found himself on the sidelines, somewhere he never thought he'd be again.
The 2008 season resulted in a coaching change, and in comes Lane Kiffin. Probably the hottest question Kiffin faced when he was hired was about the quarterbacks. Kiffin had recruited Crompton while he was the recruiting coordinator at USC, and many believe he felt Crompton was his guy early on. As a matter of fact, there were murmurs around some recruits that had concerns about the position, that Kiffin told them he felt Jon Crompton could get the job done, though no one officially went on record with that.
One of the trademark lines of Kiffin's early talks was his references to Carson Palmer, and how he and USC's staff took Carson from a run of the mill QB to an All American Heisman Trophy Winner in one season.
Though Crompton struggled last season, many are hoping the new coaching staff and new system will bring out the best in the rising Senior. With the departure of B.J. Coleman and the Spring injury to Nick Stephens, Crompton is way out in front and expected to be the Vols QB for the entire season. If Crompton can turn this second chance into a solid performance, the Vols could have some early success.
Crompton has been repeatedly praised for his performance in practice, but that hasn't translated into game situations. Kiffin obviously feels he can bring that trend to an end. With a strong recruiting class coming in, putting more playmakers around Crompton is going to be a key to helping him succeed.
Between Kiffin and assistant coaches David Reaves and Jim Chaney, Crompton could finally resemble the form many thought he could take. I don't think anyone expects Crompton to excel to Heath Shuler type levels, but Crompton has all the tools and the desire to get better, and could certainly parlay that into a successful senior campaign.
If, and that's a big if, Crompton can put the past behind him and make the most of his last chance to lead the Vols, Tennessee could be a team that surprises a lot of people, including it's own fans.
Jon Crompton has endured a lot of adversity at Tennessee, some of it self induced, but he's still at UT, still fighting to get better and make his team better. That's something UT fans can be proud of and look forward to hopefully seeing the fruits of in the 2009 season.