KNOXVILLE — Alvin Kamara has probably had Saturday circled on his calendar for a long time.
But the Tennessee running back's return to the University of Alabama, where he started his collegiate career in 2013, took on a different air Wednesday morning.
That's when Kamara received news that Altee Tenpenny, his former teammate and one of four running backs the Crimson Tide signed in 2013, was killed in a car accident Tuesday night in Mississippi.
"That's what I'm kind of dealing with right now," Kamara said Wednesday before he became too emotional to finish his answer to a question about his former teammate.
Tenpenny was a backup at Alabama the past two seasons. He transferred to UNLV and then Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La., where he was dismissed from the team Monday after being arrested on weapons charges over the weekend, according to The Associated Press.
After a teammate answered another question, Kamara was asked to complete his answer about Tenpenny.
"We came in the same class," he continued. "Running backs, same room. Me and Altee kind of went to the same things at Alabama. He ended up transferring. I transferred. Altee, nothing but love for Altee.
"What was so sad is I talked to him actually yesterday. And to wake up and get that news was heartbreaking. I know those (Alabama) guys over there are hurting, but it hurts me a lot. I know he's resting easy now."
The maturity and class Kamara showed in that moment provided a glimpse into why he's become a favorite among his teammates and a leader for the Volunteers.
When they landed Kamara's commitment last June, the Vols knew they were getting an outstanding player, but multiple teammates and coaches have noted his off-field personality and demeanor since he arrived at Tennessee from junior college in January.
"I didn't know a lot about Alvin, but the connotation of a JuCo transfer is never really that good," left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. "When guys come from JuCo, it's either they weren't a good player then, or they had a bad attitude or something like that. It's never a good connotation when they come into a team.
"But as soon as I met Alvin, I could tell he was different. Being able to work out with him in the summer and the spring, and feeling his presence and what kind of leader he is, he really did show me that he's a great guy. He's here for his teammates. That's what's important to him, so I really love that about him."
As for his return to Tuscaloosa, Kamara said his only extra motivation is "to win another game with my teammates."
It's certainly different, though, considering he'll see a handful of friends, former teammates and some of the coaches who recruited him heavily out of Atlanta-area Norcross High School.
Kamara was part of a backfield haul that included current Crimson Tide star Derrick Henry and four-star recruits Tenpenny and Tyren Jones, who left Alabama over the summer. Kamara still swaps text messages with Henry and other 2013 signees like Eddie Jackson as part of a group conversation the players use to wish each other good luck in their upcoming games.
"It didn't happen this week," Kamara said with a laugh.
Kamara's hopes of carving out carries in a crowded Alabama backfield that in 2013 included T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake, Dee Hart and three other freshmen took a decisive hit late in preseason practice when he suffered a knee injury. The promising career of the nation's No. 2-ranked all-purpose back coming out of high school never got off the ground with the Tide, and so Kamara transferred.
"He was an outstanding player," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "What happened here was that he was doing extremely well for us and was probably going to play as a freshman, but then he had his knee scoped and missed three or four weeks and couldn't catch up.
"He was really frustrated with the fact that he wasn't playing and that it was difficult for him at that time in his career, but I've seen him play this year. He's doing extremely well, and we're happy for him."
Tennessee scooped up Kamara before his 1,211-yard, 18-touchdown season at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas last year, and he has played a key role for the Vols this season. He has rushed for 255 yards, caught 15 passes for 108 yards and scored six touchdowns three different ways (three rushing, two receiving and one punt return).
"Alvin has obviously come in and given us great depth at that position and great production," offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. "He's been able to run the ball and catch the ball and (block in pass protection). He's your all-around running back. He can do everything, so it's been a big plus for us."
Said coach Butch Jones: "I think he relies on his past experiences, not only at Alabama, but also at the junior college level, and I think that drives him."
Kamara admitted he still sometimes wonders where his career might be now had he not left Alabama.
"Everything happens for a reason," he said. "I'm enjoying what I'm doing now."
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