KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Tight end Brandon Warren made his first appearance as an official member of Tennessee's football team on Tuesday looking relaxed and sporting a big grin on his face.
Earlier in the day, the NCAA informed the Volunteers that Warren, who caught 27 passes for 301 yards as a freshman at Florida State in 2006, would be cleared to play for No. 18 Tennessee this season.
"It's been a long process, a long, stressful process for me and my family," Warren said. "I finally get to get a good night's sleep."
The Alcoa native has been trying to get approval to play ever since leaving in February 2007 to be near his mother, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, but Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden chose not to release him from his scholarship.
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Because he was not a full-time student in 2007, Warren needed waivers to play during the 2008 season and receive financial aid. He maintained his eligibility by taking classes at Pellissippi State Technical Community College.
"The whole system is about helping student-athletes be successful, and it's good to see they are making that happen," coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Warren has been practicing with the Vols during their fall camp and caught six passes for 41 yards in Saturday's team scrimmage.
Offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said that he was close to needing a "plan A" and "plan B" because of the uncertainty at tight end so close to the start of the season. Junior Jeff Cottam was expected to start until deciding to have surgery on Wednesday to try to correct a nagging back injury.
The Vols also have Luke Stocker at the position, but had been practicing a number of plays without a tight end.
"You can certainly start game-planning with ease," Clawson said. "We were getting ready to work a lot more hours developing a backup plan."
Fulmer said he's interested in using Warren, who played both tight end and defensive end at Alcoa High School, on some pass-rushing plays on defense — something Warren said he would love to do.
Clawson said he's an especially strong offensive weapon because he can line up at the line, in the backfield or as a slot receiver. That adds to Tennessee's list of versatile players like tailback Arian Foster and wide receiver Gerald Jones.
"The more people you can move the more difficult it makes us to defend," Clawson said.