Art Evans says his return to the Vols "a blessing"
About 85 youngsters from the Boys and Girls Clubs were thrilled to be running around in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex on Monday.
So was Art Evans.
"It's a blessing,'' Tennessee's junior cornerback said Monday in his first interview since being reinstated to the football team.
"For everything to be taken away from you, just like that, it's kind of emotional. ... Never take anything for granted.''
Evans started six of seven games last fall before coach Derek Dooley suspended him indefinitely in late October.
The suspension was related to Evans falling behind on car payments. He missed five games.
Evans' reinstatement was announced earlier this month. He plans to be back in the secondary rotation for his senior year.
"I had to go back to my parents and we were praying every day,'' Evans said, "trying to do everything the right way and follow the guidelines that Coach Dooley had.
"I'm just glad it's over with.''
Evans was one of several UT athletes mingling with the kids at the Punt, Pass & Kick event, an annual joint venture with the sports management department and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
For the football players, it's a relief not to be spending February feeling out a new head coach, which they were doing with Lane Kiffin in 2009 and Dooley in 2010.
"We've had coaches leaving left and right since I've been here,'' said junior Anthony Anderson. "It's good to know that he's here and he's a concerned coach.
"He wants to do better and all the things he's trying to change, I admire him.
"I just can't wait to see what he has in store for us this year.''
Vols give back, participate in Punt, Pass and Kick
Still, there has been another significant staff adjustment for the players to handle.
Ron McKeefery was hired in mid-January as the new strength-and-conditioning coach after Benny Wylie left for Texas.
"This is my fifth one,'' said Evans, who arrived in 2007.
"After (change) happened two or three times, you understand it's a business. I just try to be ready and embrace it.''
McKeefery is the third strength coach for cornerback Marlalis Teague, who declined to compare the new guy to Wylie.
"It doesn't matter who's giving you the game plan as long as you're getting it,'' said Teague.
The secondary is in flux. Janzen Jackson, a starter at safety the past two years, has withdrawn from school to deal with personal issues. Brent Brewer, the other starting safety, is suspended pending an investigation into alleged domestic violence.
Evans said he keeps in contact with Jackson and anticipates he'll be back in the fall.
"He's doing pretty good,'' Evans said. "The biggest thing people should recognize is that he's grown up a lot. He's a lot more mature now.''
From Both Sides: Anderson, who played at Austin-East High School could relate to the Boys and Girls Club visitors.
"When I was very young I was at all the events here,'' he said. "Gibril and Al Wilson made me feel like I was their little brother.
"I always looked up to them, thinking I wanted to play here one day - never knowing I would play here one day.''
Over It, Finally: Anderson said he finally got over the Music City Bowl heartbreak "about two weeks ago.''
The Vols lost to North Carolina in overtime after a controversial finish at the end of regulation allowed the Tar Heels to kick a field goal prevent a UT victory.
"It's a lesson learned,'' Anderson said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win the game and we should have won the game.''