Day after day, Corey Miller spent more time inside Neyland Stadium than any Tennessee football player.
But Miller no longer was a Vol, and he wasn't sure he would ever don a Tennessee uniform again. A rough academic semester had left Miller not only off the Volunteers' roster but no longer enrolled at Tennessee.
So the former U.S. Army All-America selection from powerhouse Byrnes (S.C.) High School worked. Inside Tennessee's venerable football home, day after day. When he wasn't working, working out or taking care of matters to rejoin the Vols, Miller oftentimes was on the phone with his mother, Shelby.
Still, Miller didn't know if painting and hanging signage inside Neyland Stadium would be enough to help him color in the rest of his big orange career.
"Definitely, I told her there was one point being out from school, being away from the team, it was really hard," said the 6-foot-2, 265-pound end. "Being in the position that I was in, it gets kind of tough sometimes. I told her, 'I don't know what else to do.' She basically told me just to pray and keep your head up, keep working hard. 'Don't ever give up; do what I told you.' And I listen to everything my momma tells me."
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made clear on Monday he hoped Miller and the rest of the Vols had heard the message in Miller's tribulations. Miller officially was reinstated to the school and program in May; in addition to his "graphic design" job, Miller also rebounded in the classroom.
"This is his second chance. He kind of messed up in the classroom, and hopefully he learned from it and hopefully everybody else learned from it, too," Dooley said. "But I think the real test is what's he going to do this fall and this semester. Can you do it over time?
"It's that word commitment. It's doing something long after the mood has left you. It's easy to get committed when you're back is against the wall, but when that mood leaves you."
Sophomore Jack linebacker Jordan Williams said Miller had displayed a certain resolve as he rejoined his teammates on the field for pre-season camp.
"He's dedicated now," Williams said. "He had some grade issues last spring but now he's in his books.
"That just shows how tough he is."
Across his first two seasons at Tennessee, Miller appeared in all 25 of the Vols' games and earned two starts. He moved around from end to defensive tackle and ultimately logged snaps at both positions.
Still, Miller said, he learned a great deal because of his absence from both football and his teammates. He also said he returned to the program an improved player.
"It was tough. But what I learned was keep my priorities straight, keep my focus in line and just do what I have to do. Stop worrying about outside problems," Miller said. "Definitely, I'm better than I was. Yeah, I definitely kept working out. I couldn't lose that. If I wasn't working out, I definitely wouldn't be where I was at right now."
Where Miller targeted his sights was to seize upon this second chance at Tennessee.
"Definitely, because the way I look at it and after I talked to my Moms about it, there's a lot of people in this world who would kill for this opportunity, kill to play here," he said. "For me to be in this position, I can't just throw it away. I've got to take advantage of every opportunity given to me, and that's what I'm going to do."
Through four days of practice, Dooley said, Miller has positioned himself to be a contributor.
"It's good getting him back, and I think he shows some things in our nickel package where he can help us. A little looser plays," Dooley said. "He's not a huge guy, but he's got some good twitch. He's going to be right there in the mix."
Miller was there Monday inside Tennessee's Neyland-Thompson Sports Center, a throng of reporters circled about to hear Miller recount his journey back onto the squad. Sweat pouring and every bit of his uniform, save for his helmet, still affixed, Miller paused and smiled.
"Everything from coming back to the team, everything now is a whole lot better now," Miller said. "I look at everything with such a more positive outlook."
He looks at the home of the Vols, and no longer does Corey Miller have to wonder if he'll get another opportunity to play inside Neyland Stadium.
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