<strong>KNOXVILLE —</strong> There’s no big circle in red permanent ink around Aug. 31 on Curt Maggitt’s calendar.
Instead, the Tennessee linebacker simply hopes he can put a large X on today when it ends.
More than eight months after the ACL tear that wiped out the last two-plus games of his injury-riddled sophomore season, Maggitt enters the start of training camp this afternoon with the plan of playing in the Volunteers’ opening game in 29 days.
He’s aware, though, that the last part of the path to return may be the toughest.
“I’m taking it day by day,” Maggitt said Thursday afternoon after spending an hour in the training room. “I wouldn’t really say if it’s firm or not. It’s just taking it day by day and doing the most I can and the best I can to get better. It’s hard to say, because the past two weeks I’ve made some big gains.
“I don’t know what this next month has in store for me, but just take it day by day and be positive.”
The 6-foot-3, 243-pound junior’s last live play was against Missouri last November. Last season, Maggitt, one of Tennessee’s most versatile and disruptive defenders, battled through a nagging case of turf toe and a shoulder stinger for which he’s still receiving treatment as “preventative maintenance.” He finished with 30 tackles, including five for loss, in nine games.
Maggitt joked that he’s in the training room receiving treatment when he’s not eating, attending class or working out and credited Tennessee’s strength staff for helping him maintain his strength and weight. He said he’s been running with more confidence on his recovering right knee and improved his lateral movement through extra work on it. Maggitt admitted his “very competitive mindset” prompted Tennessee’s trainers to tell him to ease back during some drills.
He’s relied on a support system that includes former Vols linebacker Herman Lathers, his father and his brother, Roosevelt, who played at Iowa State and tore his ACL in 2011.
“It’s definitely a process,” he said. “Those guys have been helping me the most. My brother had an ACL inury, so he talked to me about it before. I knew what to expect, but it kind of got me down a little bit at times.
“Growing up, [Roosevelt] was my role model. He helped me a lot knowing what to expect and what drills to do, stuff like that — stuff that could help me and where I should be at. He helped me out a lot like that.”
Maggitt has done what he can to help his team despite his absence, and Butch Jones said he quickly learned during his first few weeks as Tennessee’s coach that Maggitt would be one of the Vols’ leaders.
“I know what we need as a team,” said Maggitt, an SEC All-Freshman selection in 2011. “We need someone that’s going to step up at times and get guys in order, get guys in line. I want that to be me.”
Jones said Wednesday he’s ready to see the resilience and perseverance Maggitt has showed through what he called a “long haul” to pay off.
“It’s hard to be a leader when you’re not in the fray with your teammates,” the coach said. “It was hard on him staying back in the spring, but he still led. I’m excited to get him back on the field.
“I do think we have to be patient with him … but I know he’s excited to get back out there.”
Receiver Jason Croom said Tennessee’s young receiving corps used a frustrating end to a spring of injuries and inconsistency to fuel their work this summer.
“Each and every day we came with a mentality [and] a chip on our shoulder,” said the 6-5, 223-pound redshirt freshman. “We were just [ticked] off. We came together a lot, too. Our unit has come so much closer. We do a lot more stuff off the field.”
Michael Palardy visited NFL punters Dustin and Britton Colquitt, who currently play for Kansas City and Denver, respectively, earlier this offseason and received some advice from the former Tennessee punters.
“I would say the biggest thing is being confident, just going out there and knowing and trusting that you’ve been doing it for so long that you don’t have to worry about mechanics or anything like that,” he said. “You can do it on your own since you’ve been doing it for so long. You’re experienced enough to be able to do it.
The senior, who’s in line to handle all three of the Vols’ kicking duties this season, said he’s struggled with that at times earlier in his career.
“It’s definitely gotten a lot better,” Palardy said. “I know this year it’s the best it’s ever been, just being able to go out on the field and hit the ball the way I know how to. That’s what I’ve been really shooting for, is not having to worry about making a mistake and going out there and doing what I love to do.”