ATLANTA -- Janzen Jackson returned for the University of Tennessee's regular season finale at Kentucky, but the gifted freshman safety waited another month before publicly discussing the circumstances surrounding his turbulent November off the football field.
Jackson was arrested but ultimately cleared of wrongdoing in an attempted aggravated robbery case that prompted first-year UT coach Lane Kiffin to dismiss freshmen Nu'Keese Richardson and Mike Edwards. Jackson said he was overjoyed at the truth finally emerging in the matter, and he thanked coaches and teammates for supporting throughout the ordeal.
"It kind of seemed kind or surreal with the media for a while," said Jackson, who missed one game before the robbery incident for 'administrative reasons.' "I just tried to stay away from the TV and tried to focus on trying to talk to my family and hanging out with my teammates, and trying to stay positive and keeping my faith with God."
Jackson -- a five-star signee from Louisiana who seemed well on his way toward a freshman All-America season before his November problems -- said he spent several days wondering whether he'd ever rejoin the team. He admitted there were times he thought his UT career had prematurely expired.
"But I just prayed," he said. "Whatever came about, I had to take it in stride. But lucky enough, I was able to get back on the team, and I can go on from here.
"It's been a process, getting back on the field and getting back to having fun and being back with my teammates. I really enjoy my teammates, and it kind of hurt me to be away from them for so long. But I think we've got some stuff to look forward to, and I'm really pleased to be back on the team."
Kiffin has said several times that he intensely investigated the incident and saw no reasons to dismiss Jackson. Several teammates said they were simply glad to have the hard-hitter back.
"He's a young guy," offensive tackle Chris Scott said. "Me being a senior, being 22 years old, I've seen a lot of different things happen, and I've gone though some things as well. You embrace him. He's our teammate. He's our Tennessee brother.
"Whatever he might have done, that's in the past, and we focus on the future. Our brother is back with us, and we're happy about it."
Freshman tailback David Oku said he's forgiven and forgotten, and he hoped UT fans would follow suit.
"This is life, dude," Oku said. "Everybody makes mistakes. We all do. My gosh. I understand that everybody holds us athletes to a really high standard and things like that, but sometimes people just have to understand that we make the wrong decisions, and we have to learn from them. I know a lot of people are really upset about things like this, because a lot of kids look up to us as role models. But at the same time, if I made a mistake, I would want people to understand I made a mistake and get over it.
"It's hard to act like something didn't happen. It did. Something happened. But then he came back, and now it's like, 'Hey man, you've just got to watch the things you do. You've got to watch the people you hang around. You've got to behave yourself like an adult, because you're an adult now, and you're on your own in college.'"
Jackson expressed gratitude toward UT junior All-America safety Eric Berry for offering him support and an off-campus place to stay after his short stint in the Knox County Detention Center.
Kiffin said last month that Berry practically ordered Jackson to stay with him before the situation settled. The coach said Berry wasn't asked by anyone to help Jackson.
Berry said he never hesitated to help Jackson, because "I know what kind of person my little brother is, and I was going to be there for him and stand beside him and give him a shoulder to lean on."
"It helped a lot," Jackson said of Berry's help. "When you're in a place where you don't have any family and a lot of people close to you, it helps to have somebody like Eric to kind of pick you up when you fall."
Jackson said Sunday that life "feels back to normal," and that he'd moved on from the matter other than appreciating its end result. His focus, he claimed, was solely on UT's Friday Chick-fil-A Bowl game against No. 12 Virginia Tech.
"Looking at Janzen, I think he understands the fact that he made a mistake, and I think he understands how close he was to getting this whole thing taken away from him," Oku said. "He's getting along with it now. He seems to be doing great."
Asked about most important lesson learned from the situation, Jackson said, "To make the right decisions, and try to make decisions that will better myself, and working toward being a positive person ... and trying to lead by example.
"People are watching me, and little kids are looking up to me -- especially back home -- so I've got to be positive for them," he said.
Other contacts for Wes Rucker are firstname.lastname@example.org and www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.