Ahmad Paige couldn't have imagined a worse first year at Tennessee.
The standout football player from Monroe, La. quickly learned in preseason camp that he was woefully behind UT's veteran receivers, admittedly tanked during the season, then was cited for possession of marijuana just days before the Vols were to complete their 2008 class on National Signing Day.
A year to forget? Sort of.
"I've matured tremendously," Paige said. "I didn't want it to happen but it was a good thing that it happened."
August practices began the season of Paige's discontent. Just 165 pounds, he quickly learned that he was playing against stronger and bigger athletes than the ones he mastered in high school.
The speed and quickness that helped him become one of the top receiver prospects in the nation was rarely showcased in college.
"Back then, I didn't do anything right," Paige said. "I couldn't get off press (coverage). I wasn't strong. I wasn't really confident in myself so I couldn't do the things I was capable of doing."
That's when, playing-wise, Paige hit a low point.
"I know I kind of tanked it at the end," Paige said of last season. "That was a mistake. I messed up. I paid for it the whole year."
No longer. Paige's dedication to his craft is obvious by his new build. Although he'll never be confused for a middle linebacker, Paige has added 15 pounds of muscle, weighing 180.
To bulk up, Paige had to lay off his love - sweets. Instead, he ate well-rounded meals and hit the weight room.
Paige initially resisted the change. He had long been afraid that adding weight would slow him down. A season of being stuck at the line of scrimmage and easily redirected by defensive backs changed his mind.
"That's a concern anytime you have a light receiver," offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "You need the ability to be strong enough to get off press coverage."
Receivers coach Latrell Scott said Paige has had a solid spring. Scott said he doesn't expect Paige to ever be a hulking 200-pound receiver, but being stronger is a must. Otherwise, ability isn't a question.
"He's got every physical tool in the world to make him successful in this league," Scott said.
Amidst training for spring practice came a mistake that Paige said enlightened him. It came when his car, which was being driven by teammate Gerald Jones, was found to contain a small mount of marijuana. Both were given a citation by police.
The incident was one of a string of off-field events that brought scrutiny on UT's program, coaches and players included.
"You're not in high school anymore," Paige said. "We learned that. Everything you do is under a microscope."
In many ways, 2008 is a fresh start for Paige. He has a new system to learn, new coaches to impress and a new outlook.
"Now, it's kind of different," Paige said. "I'm more confident in what I'm doing."
Paige still has plenty of receivers to pass on the depth chart before he catches a pass in a game. Regardless, he's expecting a much better year in 2008.