Standing side-by side at Tuesday's media availability, UT running backs Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane demonstrated how close the two have grown since they were first introduced.
Neal, a Fayetteville, Ga., native, and Lane, a junior from Daytona Beach, Fla., actually met before they stepped foot on campus when they both were in high school.
"A lot of people don't know is that me and Marlin knew each other before coming to Tennessee together through the top camps and things like that," said Neal. "We are pretty familiar with each other. We know how to cut up and turn it on when you need to. It is some pretty thick competition. One thing he always tells me is if I don't finish, he is going to get it."
The one-two punch of Neal and Lane has combined for 1,028 yards this season, with Neal's 693 yards on the ground leading the way for UT while Lane isn't far behind with 335 yards of his own despite missing the Georgia game due to a lower extremity injury. The duo has also scored a total of 12 touchdowns - eight for Neal and four for Lane - this season for the Vols.
"I think everybody needs a running mate," Neal said. "We do a great job of running together. There isn't any 'me first, I'm first'. We try and feed off of each other and both go."
Citing a specific instance from last week's upset of No. 11 South Carolina, Neal recalled how he and Lane worked together to get UT down the field.
"A good example was the second scoring drive," Neal said. "Marlin got it started off, we had a couple of good runs, I came in right behind him, had a couple good runs and scored. I think that right there is what we have the most fun doing. Going in after each other, feeding and just trying to see who can finish it. It is exciting. Our coach always tells us, 'You are only as strong as the guy behind you.'"
The two aren't just dynamic on Saturdays, though. Throughout the week, Neal and Lane are constantly competing in practice and discussing how to help the team.
"We push each other," Lane said. "We compete at practice, we talk to each other off the field. I'll send him texts through the week and tell him what he thinks about getting 100 yards apiece this game."
Lane noted how lucky the Vols are to have both himself and Neal in the backfield, a pair that few schools can match.
"It is nice. Some teams, when their running back gets hurt, their backup is not really ready to get in and they lost a beat," Lane said, "But with us, if one of us gets banged up, we know once the other goes in we are going to pick up on the momentum and keep going, keep hitting our stride like no one was missing."
The competition and drive each have provided the other is something running backs coach Robert Gillespie said "breeds success" and the success the two have shared this season has helped build their confidence.
"I think there is a confidence that we can run the ball on anybody," Gillespie said. "As a playcaller, (offensive coordinator Mike) Bajakian is definitely confident in calling run plays, and as running backs I think that helps them stick their chests out a little bit and know that they can carry the load of this offense."