B.J. Coleman has long carried himself like a starting quarterback -- even as he's languished on Tennessee's bench. On Thursday night in Neyland Stadium, the Chattanooga native played like one in the University of Tennessee's junior varsity contest against Hargrave Military Academy.
Completing a staggering 22 of 31 passes, Coleman guided the JV Vols to a 37-21 victory against the previously-undefeated Hargrave squad (10-1). The 37-point outburst is the most points scored this season in Neyland Stadium and most scored by Tennessee since the Vols' four-overtime win at Kentucky a year ago. Coleman's 325 passing yards were greater than UT's offensive output in each of the Vols' eight games since a Sept. 13 contest against UAB.
"I wanted to manage the football game the way it needs to be managed," said Coleman, who completed passes to seven different players and seemed in command from the outset. "Tempo was very important to me. Little things turn into great things. I got tremendous help out there from Ahmad (Paige) and (Tyler) Maples. Those guys did a heck of a job executing. You've got to be dynamite out there and they were.
"I take pride in practice and in getting the ball to my receivers. I want a perfect throw every time. It's important to get the ball to the receivers on the front number."
Maples and Paige, both of whom have been nonfactors this season for the Vols, were a deadly combination against Hargrave. The highly-touted Paige gathered five passes for 93 yards, including a long of 27. Maples, who like Paige is a redshirt freshman, nabbed four tosses for 77 yards, including a 24-yard scoring reception just before halftime that put UT up 16-13 and ahead to stay.
"B.J. can really throw the football," said UT graduate assistant Jim Bob Cooter, who coached the Vols in the contest. "I thought he looked awfully good out there."
For Coleman, simply getting hit again was a blessing.
"It feels good to hurt right now," said Coleman, who was not sacked in the contest. "I hadn't hurt in a long time. I've been blessed to go out there and had some good guys out there today. The O-line played hard, and give credit to Hargrave, they gave great effort."
Coleman, who said whether he would start against Vanderbilt Nov. 22 was "up in the air," wanted to rally his teammates together in this contest.
"It's been tough, mentally draining," the McCallie School product said. "It was fun to see the eyes in the huddle. Everybody focused on one goal -- to win. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. It's a blessing to be asked to do that (play quarterback), to play this wonderful game. Everybody has some bumps in the road. The Tennessee Vols will be back."
And Coleman has no doubt he'll be better prepared moving forward -- perhaps in the Vols' final two games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky and next year under a new coaching staff. Phillip Fulmer, who earlier this week said Coleman wasn't "fundamentally" ready, was removed from his post on Nov. 3.
"Any kind of game experience is important," Coleman said. "The receivers played their hearts out today, they did a great job of getting their hands on the football. And when they caught it, they held on to it and then made some things happen with it.
"I'm trying to work as hard as I can to be able to get to an opportunity to where I can get a shot (on a game day) Saturday. Those guys are doing good, Jon (Crompton) and Nick (Stephens), and if they happen to not be able to go, I'll be right there."
If Coleman is called upon to lead the Vols offense, he seemingly already possesses one trait that won't show up in the stat sheet: leadership. He was praised earlier this week by sophomore wideout Gerald Jones who likened Coleman to a Peyton Manning-type leader. More receivers offered similar praise after this game.
"It's important at the quarterback position to give big-time leadership," Coleman said. "Those other 10 guys around you, they have to get better when you get on the field. I think it's very important with your receivers, offensive line and running backs to make sure you establish that respect factor early, and I think that I've been able to do that and those guys look to me when it comes time."
It didn't take Paige long to recall the last time he garnered this much action on a football field.
"It definitely wasn't college," Paige said.
Frequently the post-practice target of Coleman in some grueling extra work, Paige said he believed that connection showed dividends against the Hargrave defense.
"Yeah, me and B.J. spend a lot of time at practice and after practice working hard," Paige said. "He's been pushing me to do that, and we just want to do what we can.
This is big for your confidence."
A Parade All-American who picked the Vols over Southern Cal in 2007, Paige said he'll take a deliberate approach about his future at Tennessee in the wake of head coach Phillip Fulmer's departure.
"It's all kind of a wait-and-see," said the personable wideout from Monroe, La. "The new coach might come in and run some offense like Navy. I can't play in that."
Something to look at
For players like freshman Austin Johnson who have played this season but not a large number of snaps, Thursday's junior varsity game was a prime opportunity to showcase their skills.
"It felt really good to get out there," said Johnson, a freshman from Hickory, N.C., who mostly has seen some special teams action with the varsity. "We practice and get reps in practice and scrimmages, but this was a great opportunity to get some competition against some good guys.
"At first, I didn't take too seriously, but as it closer and closer to the game, I got really into it and realized it was really important."
It's highly likely that Tennessee's new coaching staff will turn to tape of this contest in evaluating the younger players on the Vols' roster, something that wasn't lost on Johnson who corralled three passes for 39 yards, including a bruising 31-yard gain.
"That's definitely something I thought about," Johnson said. "I feel like the new coaches will definitely come in and look at it.
"And I also wanted to play for coach (Phillip) Fulmer."
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