Dakotah Tyler appreciates every single winded breath he gets to take this fall camp.
He hears his Kentucky teammates complain about the heat or the long hours, but Tyler just smiles.
"When you're away from it and then you come back, you're just so much more hungry and appreciate everything so much more," the junior safety said this week.
Tyler and UK declined to elaborate on what kept him away from the game last season. The junior only says he left for "personal reasons," but it's clear that getting back to Kentucky became a personal mission for the former standout at Indianapolis Pike.
"When I left, they could've given my scholarship to someone else, looked in another direction, but they stuck with me," he said. "I did everything I could to get back. I want to be here. It's the only place I want to be."
The safety spent all of last season working out, keeping his body and his mind sharp, trying to get back for this season.
"I watched every game, every single game," he said.
As he watched his teammates struggle, he struggled, too.
"It was really frustrating, especially a couple of the games we lost that were really close games, like the Georgia game. It was just so close."
The 5-foot-11, 207-pound junior, who last played as a redshirt freshman in 2010, looks forward to doing what he can to help UK turn some of those close losses into wins.
He's shown the UK coaches that he's ready to return.
"He matured a lot over the last year," Coach Joker Phillips said, noting that Tyler paid his own way through summer school and got his own apartment in Lexington.
"Worked out with the football team this summer, got himself in shape," Phillips noted. "He got himself in a position where he could compete for a job."
When a player takes a season off, it's never a guarantee that he'll be back. Plenty have walked out of the Nutter Training facility and never returned.
"You always worry when a guy leaves if he's going to make it back, but he did all the necessary things to give himself every opportunity to come back," Phillips said. "Out of sight is out of mind, (but) he continued to stay in touch with myself and the defensive coaches."
For Tyler, who will be back on scholarship in the fall, it was never a question that he would be back playing at Kentucky.
"I always knew I was going to do whatever it took to get back," he said.
"I was very determined. I'm very serious about football and ways to make my life better. I have a daughter, too, so I want to look out for her. I just want to finish school."
If the time off hurt Tyler, it didn't show during his reintroduction to the UK faithful.
Last Saturday at the team's first practice, Fan Day at Commonwealth Stadium, Tyler picked off a couple of passes in drills.
"It was fun to get out there and just play," Tyler said. "It was only our first practice, so I'm sure our quarterbacks just made some poor reads, but I just try to make plays."
In his one season on the field at UK, Tyler played in 11 games, starting one. He finished with 13 tackles, including one for a loss, a pass breakup and a forced fumble against Tennessee.
It's that game experience that could make him a valuable contributor this season, Phillips said.
"Experienced guy has played under the lights," he said of Tyler. "He's been a spring in this system. It's encouraging to have him out there."
As Phillips put it, Kentucky went "old school" on Thursday, with its first two-a-day practices of fall camp.
"There's a lot of good competition this morning and this afternoon; we got better," he said. "But still a long ways away from where we need to be at."
■ The coach was still mum on the quarterback position, saying only that he "likes their leadership" and that he's eager to see all four of them perform.
"I'd like to see Saturday and see how they move the team. ... I'm talking about getting the ball in the end zone."
When asked who he was most eager to see in Saturday's scrimmage, Phillips said wide receiver DeMarco Robinson, who had a big spring.
"Every time we've been in the stadium, he's made a play. I hope that continues."
■ Without naming names, Phillips also said he was pleased with UK's young receivers, most likely meaning freshmen DeMarcus Sweat and A.J. Legree. "When the ball's in the air, they're angry, angry guys. Those two guys have athletic ability and they attack the football."
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.