No one would have batted an eye if Travis Stephens and Corey Larkins had frolicked around the 50-yard line and belted out chords from Aretha Franklin's "Respect" following Tennessee's 33-9 win over Syracuse.
It would have been completely understandable after the evening the duo had in the face of a lack of media attention, as they rushed for a combined 170 yards and three touchdowns against the stingy Orangemen defense.
But in lieu of a boisterous voicing of arrival, Stephens and Larkins humbly answered questions in the postgame interview room and went on their way.
Stephens' running exhibition came early in the ballgame, with the fifth-year senior scampering for runs of 11, 37 and 39 yards en route to a career-high 111 yards on just 14 carries.
Head coach Phillip Fulmer attributed the eldest back's success to an added desire on the practice field.
"He won't say much, but this kid's worked in practice with a purpose. And that's to show that he can play on every down at this level, and I'm really proud of him." Fulmer said. "It certainly represents one of the good things about college football, this
type of young man."
He eclipsed his previous high of 107 yards that he set when the Vols met Georgia in 1998.
UT's 22-3 win over Georgia was Stephens' first career start; Saturday was his second, and the Clarksville native said his career has always been about making the best of his chances to run the ball.
"It feels good finally getting an opportunity to start," said the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Stephens. "I just want to make the best of my opportunities every time I get a chance."
And Larkins was also in the business of making the best of his chances.
The redshirt freshman took advantage of the beat-up 'Cuse defensive front, scoring on runs of 38 and 16 yards with under seven minutes to go in the contest.
Listed as the second tailback on the depth chart but still a virtual unknown, Larkins ran for 59 yards on five carries. Although Larkins was ready for the breakout performance, his level of success surprised even him.
"I was ready for it," said Larkins, whose last touchdown came at Opelika (Ala.) High School, "but I never thought it would turn out like this."
Offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said he expected a heightened effort out of the former defensive back.
"I felt like Corey would be a different guy when the lights came on Saturday than what you necessarily see on the practice field," Sanders said. "Corey's got ability, but he really came out and showed some speed and really had a different gear than what w
e'd seen most of the time on practice films."
Larkins said his staying power will be tested in the coming weeks.
"I've still got to prove myself, starting with Arkansas next week and then Florida after that," he said. "If I can go out there and do the same thing, then I'll feel like I accomplished something."
Unsung Vol running backs make statement in opener
Published: Tue Sep 04, 2001 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 03:45 p.m.