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August 5, 2014
Lane: 'Tomorrow is never promised'
The photograph tells the story. It also tells Marlin Lane do not give up.
Tennessee's senior running back very nearly did just that. Suspended, unmotivated and without football, Lane also admitted he was without much direction in his life 18 months ago as upheaval, and another coaching change, wracked the Volunteers' football program and Lane's personal life.
"I would say I just got back focused. I just wasn't feeling it after that situation I had last spring, and I just felt like college wasn't meant for me," said the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Daytona Beach, Fla., native. "I just had a lot of outside negatives, which I had always counted that out, but it just kept somehow getting to me. I was being weak-minded, letting stuff get to me and I was doing things I wasn't supposed to do."
Opting for isolation from his roots --- Lane said he "sacrificed, stayed away from home and stayed to myself" --- the Volunteers' running back still had family watching over him every day. Hanging upon the bedroom wall of Tennessee's now-senior running back, perhaps the most unlikely of the Vols' veteran leaders, is essentially a family portrait: Lane's father, Marlin Lane Sr.; mother, Milinia Williams; both Lane's brothers; and his late uncle, Lucius Harris are pictured.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one needs just four: Tomorrow is never promised.
"Some days I wake up and just have a demeanor like, 'I don't feel like doing anything.' I just have this picture on my wall that I look at, and it motivates me. It strives me to keep going," Lane told VolQuest.com. "My mom, my dad, my two brothers and my uncle who passed away are in it. It just makes me get up and move and think about it; tomorrow is never promised, so why not give it your all? Whatever you got in your tank for the people around you and not be selfish.
"I kind of got away from it, just being weak-minded with a lot of off-the-field things. I just canceled all that out and moved forward."
What Lane has moved into for this Tennessee team in scarcely one year, according to running backs coach Robert Gillespie, is an example of football at its character-developing best.
"Marlin Lane is what we're here to do, and what I mean by that, you'll recruit some kids that are already self-sufficient. They come from great environments, everything is perfect. They don't need tutors, they don't need study hall. They don't need that extra stuff. Marlin Lane is why we coach," said Gillespie, himself a former SEC running back from his playing days at Florida. "He's a kid that football was his way --- to do something different for his family and for himself. Those are the kind of guys that you want. You want that challenge as a coach, to be able to look back 30 years from now and he calls and sends you an email or a picture of his kids or calls in 10 years and sends you a wedding invitation.
"You take on both sides, the great kid, but you also want the kid who needs the extra effort."
Despite a 5-yard-per-carry average and nearly 1,500 career rushing yards, Lane oftentimes has been on the fringe of being Tennessee's top tailback. He's appeared in 35 career games with six starts, all during the 2012 season, but Lane never has carried more than 19 times in a game. Last season he was poised to start in place of then-senior Rajion Neal, but coaches changed their minds in pre-game warmups.
Again, Lane had a setback. This time, however, Lane also had an appropriate response. Lane had seen the coaches, specifically head coach Butch Jones and Gillespie, refuse to give up on him even when he tried to give up on himself. In the Vols' unexpected triumph against nationally-ranked South Carolina, the heroes were Michael Palardy, Marquez North, Justin Worley, a late defensive stand and the hard-nosed running of Lane, who bulled through the Gamecocks' weary defense late down to the 1-yard line to set up Palardy's game-winning field goal.
"Coach Jones, the first day he got here, he told us 'You buy in, and I'm with you 100 percent.' He told us his door was always open, and a lot of coaches say that. But Coach Jones, he follows his word," said Lane, who was not with his Tennessee teammates through the first five months of 2013. "And that little situation I had, he didn't even know me that well and still he stuck by my side every day. Even though I was trying to shy away from him, he called me every day. He, Coach Gillespie, Coach (Mike) Bajakian and even the defensive coaches never gave up on me and that showed me a lot.
"By him showing me that, I trusted him and he trusted me. That brought me to where I'm at today."
These days, even as Jones has implored his team to show greater leadership, consistency and urgency in the early sessions of fall camp, Tennessee's second-year coach points to Lane as a success story.
"We raise our players like they're our own children. I saw a lot of good in Marlin; he was just making some inappropriate choices and decisions," Jones shared. "I take great pride in that ownership of that. When there are individuals like that who now excel in the community, in the classroom on this football team, that's why you coach. And Robert Gillespie has done a tremendous job of mentoring him as well.
"He's turned into one of our leaders. He's a voice of experience. He's a voice of reason. I'm very proud of him."
With freshman Jalen Hurd, a former high school All-America pick, already pressing for playing time, Lane cannot afford to relent. Instead, he stares at his wall --- and he knows what the family picture would say.
"I had a lot of positive self-talk," said Lane. "I said to myself, 'This is my last go-around. Why not make a big turnaround and surprise myself and everybody out there?'"
Why not, with his senior season left, paint a new portrait of Marlin Lane to hang on the wall?