Tennessee wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard said he never doubted he would return to the team after taking a leave of absence to deal with unspecified "personal circumstances."
Howard spoke to reporters Monday for the first time since rejoining the Volunteers. Howard, who led the team in receptions and touchdown catches last season, wasn't with the team during spring practice.
"Adversity makes you strong. ... You've got to get back up and keep pushing," Howard said.
Howard caught 44 passes for 388 yards and three touchdowns last year. During the offseason, Tennessee coach Butch Jones indicated Howard had "prerequisites and requirements that must be met" in order to play this season.
Although Jones never publicly detailed those requirements and only said Howard had to deal with "personal circumstances" when he was away from the team this spring, the coach said Monday that Howard has been "extremely consistent" in his approach. The 5-foot-8 junior from Orlando, Florida, has been with the team throughout training camp.
Asked if he ever believed he wouldn't return, Howard replied, "Not at all. Regardless of whatever was being said, I kept my mind focused and just worked hard to get back."
"I think our players have done a great job of holding him to a high standard of accountability, but it really comes down to him," Jones said. "Alton is a talented football player. That's not been the question. But it's getting the eight hours of sleep, getting the extra treatments, getting in the cold tubs, spending extra time with Coach Z (receivers coach Zach Azzanni), not just knowing the slot position but knowing all the receiver positions on the field, being consistent in practice each and every day.
"That's what we've seen so far from him. It's a tribute to him and it's a testament to him. Now the challenge is to keep it up for an entire length of a football season."
Howard said he was told to "stay focused, do what I needed to do academically and stay on top of all my problems." Howard also says he understands Jones' frequent references to how "football is a lifestyle."
"You've got to live it, love it, like it," Howard said. "He preaches on it each and every day. Some do. Some don't. Regardless, you have to self-discipline yourself. The best take care of their bodies, regardless of the aches and pains. You have to do stuff to prevent it. It's a lifestyle.
"I live it, love it and like it. Yes I do."
NOTES: Jones said he could name a starting quarterback this week. Senior Justin Worley and sophomores Nathan Peterman and Joshua Dobbs are competing for the job. "I expect if things go the way they've been going, we'll name a starting quarterback at some point this week," Jones said. "But again, I'm not going to set any time frames. If it happens, it happens. There are no deadlines." ... Defensive lineman Derek Barnett, running back Jalen Hurd, cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and tight end Ethan Wolf became the first freshmen to have stripes removed from their helmets. Each freshman has a black stripe on his helmet until teammates decide he's earned the right to have it removed.