KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – While Marquill Osborne’s friends are being fitted for prom tuxedos, he’s growing into his Tennessee jersey.
Osborne, a mid-term enrollee from Cornelius, N.C., has caught the eye of his teammates and coaches with his play during spring practice. Osborne appears to have put himself in prime position to play extensively this season. Nickelback is a possibility. Special teams is a given.
“It’s very difficult for a young man that should be in high school right now,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said of Osborne’s transition. “He’s come in and it’s really helped him. You can see he’s grown and matured a little bit. You can also see him fighting the mental fatigue, not just of classes, but I think it’s the compilation of everything: Great character, works exceptionally hard and he’s got a chance to be a very, very good football player.”
Jones said Osborne has good strength, is active, very smart and also explosive. It’s a combination that has fueled Osborne’s head start into college football.
“I think this is giving me a huge edge over everybody,” Osborne said. “It’s totally different from high school. All the people coming in are going to be in for a rude awakening.”
Senior cornerback Cameron Sutton has noticed Osborne’s ability. Sutton has also noticed Osborne’s attitude.
“Hungry,” Sutton said. “Willing to learn, willing to take critique. stays in his playbook, always watching film, always asking questions and he’s able to come out here and make plays and be successful. He’s one of the first couple of guys in the meeting room, and every time and I see him staying after practice or after lifting and working his game, working his craft. Those are the type of guys you need in the program, that are going to be consistent, willing to learn and help us out on Saturdays.”
That’s strong praise from a player like Sutton, who returned to Tennessee after considering opting out of his final year of eligibility for the NFL draft. Jones said when the Vols recently voted for leaders, Sutton’s name was near the top of the list. Even though Osborne is young, he has figured out who to follow.
“I’m definitely looking at him as an example,” Osborne said of Sutton. “I’m glad he stayed. He’s a huge influence to me. He’s a huge leader. I picked up his time management, the way he carries himself around campus, the way he stays in the books, the way he studies film, everything. He’s like perfect.”
Osborne played cornerback in high school. He’s been asked to play nickelback at Tennessee. That can be challenging because it’s almost a pseudo-linebacker position in the Vols’ defense.
“You have to know everything on the field more than corner,” Osborne said. “Corner is easier. At the nickel spot, you have to know so much more. You’re blitzing too. I just started blitzing this year. It’s definitely fun though. I like the physicality.”
Sutton said the position is a natural one for Osborne.
“It fits him a lot with his ability to play the ball in the air,” Sutton said. “He’s a physical player as well. I think it’s better for him because, especially in our system, the nickel position is a big part of our system. That nickel position, you’re always around the ball, you’re always involved in run game (and) pass game throughout the whole course of a game. He can run. Just the God-given ability that he has is going to help him be successful.”
That ability has Osborne in a small club. According to the GPS systems that the Vols wear, he’s one of a handful of players that have topped 20 miles per hour during practice. That speed, however, doesn’t make practice easy.
“It feels like it’s playing three high school games in one practice,” Osborne said “So I definitely had to get used to that and get in shape.”