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The night before Tennessee opens its season at UCLA, safety Demetrice Morley plans to make three phone calls.
One to his mother, one to his son and one to his son’s mother.
On Labor Day, Morley will play in his first college game in 18 months. He has labored to return to the Tennessee team. Since his last appearance – against Penn State in the 2007 Outback Bowl – Morley has flunked out of school, fathered a child (Deion Morley) and found inspiration from his mother (Felicia Henry).
The journey back is almost complete for the junior from Miami , Fla.
“I’m pretty excited,” Morley said. “I’ve been away from the game for a while.”
His return will be against a name opponent in a name stadium – The Rose Bowl – before a national audience on ESPN.
“It’s like a dream come true, right there,” Morley said. “I’ve never been to Cali. I’ve never played in the Rose Bowl Stadium. … I can tell the guys are pumped up for it and are just ready to get out there and hear them helmets clacking.”
Morley is ready to do more than clack helmets.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said his quarterbacks have thrown 20 interceptions during August camp and Morley has picked off six or seven. Morley had two in UT’s first major August scrimmage. He said he had nine in the spring, when the defense recorded 34 picks. He said he had six more during voluntary summer workouts.
Morley admits he’s a different player than the one who couldn’t maintain his grades his sophomore season.
“Yes sir, I’m more mature, thanks to the coaches and thanks to the guys around me,” said Morley, who made 10 starts in 2006 and recorded 51 tackles and two interceptions. “I’ve got a new number, seven. I got a new attitude and a new swagger about myself. I’m a new person.
“Not too many people get a second chance in life. And I was one of those fortunate ones.”
Morley has had his hands on so many passes, it was suggested he might petition to play wide receiver.
“If the opportunity comes pass me, I won’t pass it up,” Morley said. “I’ll tell you that. I’ll do anything to help this team. Put me at center, right guard, tackle, wherever it is, I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”
That’s not the same attitude Tennessee saw in Morley when he first arrived with a heralded class before the 2005 season. He displayed ability but not the desire to do anything to help the team – on or off the field.
Secondary coach Larry Slade said he was pleasantly surprised in the spring with how quickly Morley picked things up despite being away from football for a year.
Defensive coordinator John Chavis wasn’t so surprised.
“He was playing good football before,” Chavis said of Morley’s 2006 season. “He’s had a very good camp. And he’s matured. When you have something taken away from you, you look at it a little differently. I think you appreciate it a little bit more and I think you give a little bit more to be a part of it.”
Morley’s return coupled with the play of Eric Berry, a freshman All-American last season, gives Tennessee arguably the two best safeties in the SEC, if not the nation.
“You’ve got two safeties you feel very comfortable doing a lot of things with,” Chavis said. “They’re familiar with the scheme. They know what you want. They’re able to play good technique and they’re great athletes. When you’ve got two guys back there like that, it gives you a lot of flexibility with what you can do with your scheme.”
Morley said he and Berry are like “brothers from another mother.”
Morley’s real mother wasn’t too pleased with her son when she found out he’d flunked out of school after the 2006 season.
“Last year, when I dropped out of school,” Morley recalls, “we had our ups and downs. I had to prove to her I could do it and man up and do the right things and get back on the right track.”
Now, Morley’s mom is thrilled with the progress her son has made.
“I’ve never heard her this excited before,” Morley said. “She’s singing Rocky Top on the phone. I swear to you man. She’s so excited and pumped up. I’m just so happy to hear her talk and give me words of wisdom. I thank her so much. My mom’s a single parent and she’s guided me through life and helped me see things.”   
Morley said his mother is more excited than he is about the UCLA game.
“She wants to come out and put on the helmet and shoulder pads and get out there and run up the field,” Morley said.
He’ll hear that excitement once more before he returns to the football field for real – the night before the Vols face the Bruins.



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