CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Most University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players used last week's bye to rest up and heal up after the first five weeks of the season.
Dean Haynes was quite the opposite.
The former Northwest Whitfield star had already spent too much of his first year at UTC resting and healing. He just wanted to play.
"It felt great," Haynes said Tuesday about his return to practice last week. "I've been waiting for two months to get out here on the field. I got a little taste of it in the summer, getting to run around with everybody, but then I got injured."
The junior safety had hopes of making a big impact for the Mocs when he transferred closer to home from North Carolina State this summer.
He went through voluntary summer conditioning with the team, but only made it through two days of preseason camp before being sidelined with a broken bone in his left foot.
"It was tough, making the transfer and finally feeling like I have a chance to come in and help a team. Then the mishap with my foot happened," Haynes said. "But my teammates stuck by my side and they helped me through it. It's been a great experience so far."
Haynes was finally cleared to practice at the start of last week, and returned to the field when the Mocs started bye-week workouts last Wednesday.
Coaches haven't had much of a chance to see what he can do considering they were not allowed to attend the team's summer sessions. Luckily, Haynes worked off the field to help ease his eventual transition back onto it.
"In meetings I stayed attentive and paid attention to my position. Then out here at practice I was under the tent, and it may have looked like I wasn't paying attention, but I was watching every rep," he said.
The Mocs have already played four different players at free safety this season, but still haven't found a the right fit opposite strong safety D.J. Key.
Redshirt freshman Sema'je Kendall started the first three games, but redshirt junior Keith Mayes started against Appalachian State and cornerback Chaz Moore briefly shifted to safety last time out against The Citadel.
Redshirt sophomore Zach McCarter, a former Hixson star, has also played and is currently slated to start this Saturday's game at Furman.
Haynes could eventually be the permanent solution, but he'll have to prove he's ready for the job. That process starts this Saturday with his UTC debut.
"He hasn't played in awhile, so he's got a lot of physical and mental rust to shake off just being out there," said head coach Russ Huesman. "We've kind of penciled him in on every special teams right now. As far as how much he plays in the secondary (this week), I don't know.
"He's still knocking the rust off, but he looks good."
And Haynes feels good, which is the most important thing.
He's wearing a brace that extends up the leg past his ankle, but is not restricted in any way. He's not as much concerned right now with how much he plays on Saturday, just that he's finally playing at all.
"I'm not trying to prove to anybody that I'm the best. I know what I'm capable of, so I just need to play within myself," Haynes said. "I just want to go out there and make plays for my team, then knock somebody's head off when I get the chance."
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