After a promising start to the 2011 season, things took a quick, and unfortunate, turn for Justin Hunter.
"I hated having to sit there on the sideline in my sweats watching the guys plays and knowing I couldn't contribute anything," Hunter said.
Hunter's ACL injury last season was widely publicized in the Knoxville area and left Tennessee fans wondering what could have been if the then-sophomore receiver had been healthy for the entire season.
"Yeah, it was really hard sitting there because I felt like I was letting my teammates and the fans down," said Hunter.
Now a junior, Hunter is back, and in the eyes of his coaches and peers seems to be better than ever.
"He looks really good and I think physically he looks better than he did before the injury," said quarterback Tyler Bray. "It just looks like he is moving quicker and jumping a little higher."
Hunter was able to start running and working out again during spring practice last semester, but claimed he wasn't 100 percent until the Vols starting practicing in pads this August.
"There were different hurdles for me to get past, but I feel great now," Hunter said. "Getting the first catch was really big and helped me take a deep breath."
The receiver returned strong in his first game back since the injury against N.C. State in the Vols' season opener. Hunter recorded nine receptions for 73 yards on the night, with a long of 19 yards.
By most standards, Hunter had an above average performance, but he focused more on his two drops on the night than the nine catches.
"I am disappointed I couldn't bring those in cause the deep one would have been a touchdown, I think," Hunter said. "I guess I still have some rust so I'm going to work on that this week."
"Justin obviously still has some rust to knock off, but I was pleased with the way he played," said Dooley.
But Hunter isn't the only receiver on the Tennessee roster.
Due to the departure of All-SEC receiver Da'Rick Rogers before the start of the season, others will need to step up even more to fill the void.
Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson has received a lot of hype, and after his performance in the Georgia Dome Friday night it seems well deserved. The transfer recorded six receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. Patterson had two carries for 72 and a touchdown, all in the first half.
Ten different Vols recorded receptions in the 35-21 win over the Wolfpack, and to Derek Dooley that's what the team will have to do to keep having success as the season continues.
"I was pleased in the way that Tyler spread the ball around tonight," said Dooley. "A lot of guys made contributions and he didn't try to force anything."
Thought of as the leader of the wide receivers, Zach Rogers led by example in Atlanta. Rogers was able to fly past 2011 All-American corner back David Amerson for a 72-yard touchdown that ties his career long.
"Zach is the leader of that group," said Bray. "He helps keep the other guys focused when they started goofing off. He helps make my job easier."
Former walk-on turned scholarship player Jacob Carter recorded his first reception as a Volunteer during the second quarter against the Wolfpack that went for 20 yards. Carter received the scholarship following the dismissal of Da'Rick Rogers.
"I was happy for Jacob," said Zach Rogers. "He has put a lot of time and hard work in and it's paying off for him."