2012 Football Season Full of Promise
A rare combination of youth and experience has University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Coach Russ Huesman optimistic heading into the 2012 football season. Forty-six lettermen are returning including 17 starters. This year’s roster, however, has only eight seniors as 27 sophomores are returning and 36 freshmen round out the 2012 team including 13 redshirts from 2011.
by Mike Haskew
Recognizing the quality of the competition looming ahead, Huesman takes heart from a 2011 season that found the Mocs on the brink of a breakout year. Finishing 5-6 overall and 3-5 in the Southern Conference last season, the Mocs dropped five games by a total of 12 points, including a narrow 14-12 loss at Appalachian State, a pair of 28-27 setbacks against The Citadel and Georgia Southern (then ranked number one), a 14-7 loss at Furman after leading in the final minutes, and a 28-27 loss at home to Wofford.
Still, Huesman takes a practical look at last season and what it means heading into 2012. “I think the biggest thing that we showed in 2011 was that we can compete with everybody in the league week in and week out,” he says. “We showed that our players are good enough to do that, and a lot of those guys are back this year.
“We played a young team last year, and sometimes it showed. That does hurt you, but in the long run, your ability to play young kids helps your program. We feel pretty good about the guys coming back, and several of them are All-Conference players that did good things for us.”
On the offensive side of the football, redshirt freshman Terrell Robinson (6’3”, 195 lbs.) from South Pittsburg, Tenn., stepped up in 2011 when starting quarterback B.J. Coleman suffered a serious shoulder injury. Robinson started three games at quarterback, took freshman player of the week honors three times, and was named Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. He also became the first UTC quarterback to rush and pass for more than 100 yards in a single game since Tony Merendino in 1978, and the first to rush for 100 yards in a game since Gary Bloodsaw in 1980.
Robinson finished the spring atop the depth chart at quarterback, but will compete this year for the starting position with junior Graham Nichols (6’3”, 195 lbs.), a native of Franklin, Tenn., and redshirt freshman Jacob Huesman (6’1”, 190 lbs.), son of the head coach. Huesman sat out the 2011 season after signing with the Mocs, following a steller high school career at Baylor School.
Several returning running backs will vie for playing time in 2012, including sophomore Marquis Green (5’7”, 174 lbs.), who led the Mocs last season in rushing with 530 yards on 120 attempts and three touchdowns and earned freshman All-Conference honors. Senior Chris Awuah (5’9”, 200 lbs.) finished 2011 with three touchdowns and 227 yards on 58 carries, after an injury put him out of the Samford and Wofford games. Senior J.J. Jackson (5’9”, 200 lbs.) finished the spring listed number one at running back, with three touchdowns and 234 yards on 70 attempts. Jackson was also sidelined last season for three games after incurring an injury during the Nebraska game.
Keon Williams (6’0”, 215 lbs.) will also be back this year after a 2011 season hiatus. Williams earned Southern Conference All-Freshman team honors in 2010 by rushing for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns.
“I think we have a bunch of good players, and nobody really stepped to the forefront in the spring,” Huesman says. “We were solid, but one or two of the backs will need to step up and take charge.”
Southern Conference All-Freshman tight end Faysal Shafaat (6’5”, 240 lbs.) promises to contribute to the passing game, building on a 2011 season with 179 yards and two touchdowns on 19 catches. At 6’5”, 240 lbs., he will also be called on to deliver key blocks in the running game.
A young corps of receivers will be counted on for the passing game, including junior split end Marlon Anthony (6’5”, 220 lbs.), the leading returning receiver with 333 yards and four touchdowns on 27 catches last year.
On the offensive line, senior right tackle Adam Miller (6’4”, 275 lbs.) anchors an experienced group along with junior right guard Kevin Revis (6’2”, 275 lbs.), sophomore center Patrick Sutton (6’1”, 265 lbs.), senior left guard Dustin Tate (6’5”, 280 lbs.), and sophomore Brandon Morgan (6’2”, 290 lbs.) at left tackle. Sutton, a walk-on, started every game last season, as did Miller. Revis, a native of Dayton, Tenn., transferred from Tennessee in the summer of 2011.
“In order for us to be good, our focus has to be on the offensive line,” Huesman says. “We’ve got a lot of guys back, and we had two true freshmen that played a lot for us last year. One of them started, and two redshirt freshmen started as well. Last year the big thing was that we were young, and it showed. Now, this group has 11 games under its belt. They are bigger, stronger, and more experienced.”
With eight starters returning on offense, Huesman hopes to see consistency in execution, with several players overcoming nagging injuries that kept them partially sidelined during the spring. He also explains his hope that a new versatile spread offense will increase the Mocs’ offensive strength.
“Going to the spread formation where the quarterback has the opportunity to run the football will allow us to be just as effective with one running back in the backfield as with two true running backs there. We got into the spread with Terrell coming into the game, and now having researched it more we have put our own stamp on it, and it will be pretty exciting.”
During the 2011 season, a hardnosed Mocs defense ranked first in the Southern Conference in eight categories, including total defense, pass efficiency defense, scoring defense, turnover margin, pass defense, fumbles recovered, opponent third down conversions, and opponent fourth down conversions.
Among the eight defensive starters returning, the entire line remains intact from a year ago. Senior left end Josh Williams (6’3”,235 lbs.) earned All- Conference honors in 2011 and led the conference with 9.5 sacks. He is also the career UTC sack leader with 21.5. At nose tackle, Keyon Reed (6’2”, 260 lbs.) was a conference All-Freshman selection in 2011, while Josh Freeman (6’0”, 285 lbs.) started 10 games and earned All-Freshman honors but was sidelined by injury during spring practice. Sophomore Toyvian Brand (6’2”, 260 lbs.) started five games at tackle last season, and sophomore right end Davis Tull (6’3”, 230 lbs.) recorded five sacks and two fumble recoveries.
“Right off the bat, Williams and Tull are a great combination at defensive end. They are as good as anybody in the league,” Huesman says.
Even with the graduation of All- Conference linebacker Ryan Consiglio, the 2012 Mocs linebacker corps looks rock solid. Senior outside linebacker Shane Heatherly (6’4”, 220 lbs.) played in 10 games last season but was lost for several weeks with an injury. Junior outside linebacker Gunner Miller (6’1”, 225 lbs.) returned an interception for a touchdown against Elon. Miller, a 2010 conference All-Freshman selection with 51 tackles last season, will likely see action both at linebacker and on the defensive line.
Junior middle linebacker Wes Dothard was a first team Associated Press All-American selection and first team All-Southern Conference player in 2011. Dothard earned conference player of the week honors three times. He finished second on the team with 98 tackles, behind Consiglio with 120.
“Dothard had a surprising year,” Huesman says. “He came in as a backup in the fall, and when Shane Heatherly hurt his ankle and was out two or three weeks he did a great job. It was the old story that once you let him in you can’t get him out. It really was a monster year for him, and we expect the same thing from him this season. We will move Shane to take Consiglio’s spot at (outside) linebacker, and when you lose a player the caliber of Ryan they are hard to replace. But Shane was voted captain of the team and will do a nice job.”
Both juniors, left cornerback Kadeem Wise (5’10”, 180 lbs.) and safety D.J. Key (6’0, 195 lbs.) were second team All-Conference selections in 2011. Wise returns with eight career interceptions, while Key set a school record with an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown against Western Carolina. Sophomore free safety Zach McCarter and junior right cornerback Chaz Moore top the depth charts at their respective positions coming out of spring practice, and junior Dean Haynes, a transfer from N.C. State, will compete for playing time as well.
“Chaz played as much as any starter last season since we played a lot of nickel defense, and people don’t talk about him a lot. But I would say we really have three returning starters. Someone needs to step up at free safety to replace Chris Lewis-Harris (a senior second team All-Conference selection in 2011),” Huesman says.
UTC will also gain the services of powerful defensive lineman Chris Mayes (6’3”, 295 lbs.), a 2011 Navy transfer. Mayes was ineligible to play during the 2011 season, but he’s now back at full force with three years ahead of him at UTC.
On special teams, sophomore Nick Pollard (6’0, 180 lbs.) returns to handle placekicking duties after hitting 10 of 14 field goals and 31 of 33 extra points last season. Pollard is also working on his rugby style punting following the departure of senior Joel Bradford, who handled those chores in 2011.
“[Pollard] had a great season last year on field goals and did everything we asked of him,” Huesman says. “He also made the conference All-Freshman team, and we feel good about him.”
The Mocs’ 2012 recruiting class includes 16 freshmen and transfers Derrick Lott (6’4”, 303 lbs., defensive line) from Georgia and Dean Haynes (5’11”, 200 lbs., defensive back) from N.C. State.
All 18 of the signees are from either Tennessee or Georgia, and local talent includes kicker Henrique Ribeiro (6’0, 220 Junior middle linebacker Wes Dothard lbs.) from Baylor, defensive end Keionta Davis (6’4, 230 lbs.) from Red Bank, Haynes from Tunnel Hill, Ga., linebacker Alex Kirby (6’0”, 210 lbs.) from Calhoun, Ga., and long snapper Will Sharpton (6’3”, 255 lbs.) of Tullahoma.
With a solid foundation and proven performers, the Mocs take the field with tremendous potential in 2012. A proven defensive unit is bound to be dogged, while the new offense will provide an exciting, high-energy brand of football. As Huesman enters his fourth season at UTC, the concerted effort to “restore the glory” of seasons past appears to be well on its way.