Derek Dooley didn't show any signs of relief.
In fact, the Tennessee coach almost forgot to even mention the NCAA Eligibility Center drama that's hung over freshman Justin Hunter's head the past two weeks.
But the two words Dooley tacked to the end of his opening comments after practice on Tuesday at Haslam Field were obviously the ones that meant the most to the Vols. And despite the frustration Dooley has shown while waiting for clearance for his heralded receiver, the matter-of-fact delivery was perhaps just a sign of validation for something he expected from the start.
"Hunter's back," Dooley said.
That news overshadowed what was an otherwise standard practice for the Vols, who worked on third-down and red-zone installation as they prepare for Saturday's opener against UT Martin.
But the fact that Hunter was back in pads - and his new No. 11 jersey - surely helped make it seem more normal for Dooley, who didn't hide his emotions about getting the athletic target back on the field well until Tuesday.
"It was a huge relief," Dooley said. "There was a lot of nervous coaches, but we were confident all along that he was going to get cleared. It was just a question of when.
"We had no control over the situation, and it's always a lesson that you can't worry about things you can't control, so make the best of it. He was a little bit hurting in the foot, so we took it as an opportunity to triple the treatment, you all saw the boot on him. So you just find how to turn it into a positive. That's what he did, and he handled it great."
Now Hunter can turn his attention back to handling the football, which he was perhaps doing better than anybody when his training camp was derailed on Aug. 19 over an issue with an Internet course he took in high school.
Just before the NCAA sat him down to review his transcript, Hunter had really started to emerge with a five-catch, 128-yard performance in the second scrimmage of fall camp and was drawing nothing but high praise from the coaching staff and his teammates. He appeared to have collected a little rust during the time off and dropped the first ball thrown his way during the open portion of practice Tuesday, but apparently there weren't many other problems after that.
"He did good," senior receiver Gerald Jones said. "I told him that I thought he was going to lose a step, it's kind of hard when you don't catch the ball for about four or five days. But he caught the ball well. I don't know assignment-wise how he did, we'll go back and watch film, but he looked good out there.
"Yeah, maybe we saw a couple balls on the ground that he would have caught that he didn't catch, but he didn't lose a lot."
If anything, Hunter might have benefited from that time off to rest his sore foot. And UT certainly came out ahead by getting him back on the field before kicking off the season this weekend.
For all the hype around Hunter during camp, the Vols still haven't seen him in a game yet. But now they know there won't be a wait.
"I was most concerned about his being in shape," Dooley said. "We've tightened down the game plan a little bit, and he's been looking it over, I'm sure. But he's fine. It'll hit him in a couple days, probably. The first day is always easy.
"Usually on the first day back you're a ball of energy and you're going, then all of a sudden, you realize, 'Am I still in good shape or not?' You hope it won't be too big of a setback, but we'll see - he'll be ready for Saturday."