That "situation" stemmed from an early morning fight at a Knoxville bar on July 9 that involved eight Vol football players and sent two non-players to the hospital. Walls, a sophomore defensive tackle, and sophomore linebacker Greg King immediately were suspended by Dooley, then reinstated this week.
"I feel pretty blessed," Walls said. "I respect my coach and the decision he made. I made a mistake and he felt like I paid my dues for that mistake, so he allowed me back on the team. I really respect him, as a man and as a coach. "
Walls' comments were his first public statements since the July 9 incident. He realizes he sullied the reputation of UT's football program and seems truly remorseful about it.
"I'm just trying to be out here and not be a distraction for my teammates, let everybody know I made a mistake," he said. "That's a mistake I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life.
"I definitely didn't come to Tennessee to be doing stuff like that but it happened. But, hey, I've got to live with that and pray that everything will be OK."
Based on the reaction of his teammates, Walls believes forgiveness is already taking place.
"They've done a great job to not even talk about the situation - to not put that pressure on," he said. "They knew the day was coming when there was going to be a lot of pressure and a lot of explaining to do. But they've been great teammates and I love my teammates. We've been talking football, and that was that."
Unsure how first-year head coach Dooley would react, Walls spent his three-week suspension worrying about his football future.
"It was very difficult," he said. "All I could do was come in and let Coach Dooley know I'd made a mistake and I knew there was a consequence I was going to have to pay for that mistake. He's been a great coach and a great mentor off the field, and I really respect Coach Dooley so far."
Dooley said after practice that King and Walls wore big smiles throughout the opening fall workout. Walls hopes his smile won't be misconstrued.
"I just want everybody to know (the smile) wasn't because I felt like I got over (beat the rap)," he said. "This is what I know: Playing ball is what I know, and I couldn't do nothing but smile at the fact I was back out here again and having a chance to wear the Tennessee jersey again. That's what the smiles were for and that was a great load off."
Walls and King have apologized several times for their role in the July 9 mishap, yet they continue to seek forgiveness from their teammates.
"Me and Greg both have a chance to start this season, and that's just not what you expect from your starters," Walls said. "To this day that's all I could do - apologize to them and let them know I made a mistake.
"It should never have been made. I shouldn't have been out that time of night, knowing I had workouts the next morning. That's all I could do - apologize to my teammates and let them know I made a mistake."
Walls said he has gained 10 pounds since spring and now packs 273 pounds on his 6-3 frame.
"Going through this stressful time, trying to keep that weight on was a big problem," he said. "I was just trying to find some kind of peace - knowing I'd made a mistake as a player and let a situation turn bad very quick."
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