published Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Two Mocs have 30-minute drill

UTC's Bass, Dockery dealing with diabetes

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Austin Bass

As football practice went on around him at Scrappy Moore Field last Wednesday, Austin Bass sat on one of the training tables munching on a Snickers. It's become a familiar scene at Mocs practices.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga punter and kicker is one of two freshmen with Type 1 diabetes. Whenever his blood sugar tests too low -- tests are done every 30 minutes during practice -- he leaves the field for a fast sugar boost.

"It feels like your legs are wobbly and you don't have control over your body and you're light-headed," Bass said about having a low blood-sugar count, usually anything below 70 milligrams per deciliter. A normal count is usually 90-140.

"I always like Snickers if it's something quick," he said. "If you're really low, like kind of getting out of it, I tell you what, Triscuits and peanut butter tastes like a T-bone steak sometimes."

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound Franklin, Tenn., resident was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes when he was 6 years old. Offensive lineman Hunter Dockery of Newport, Tenn., was diagnosed when he was 9. Like Bass, the 6-4, 300-pound Dockery said his parents suspected something was wrong because "I was going to the bathroom a lot."

Diabetes affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugars through insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas. Type 1 is an auto-immune disease, believed to be genetic. Type II is often brought on by poor nutrition or obesity.

Bass said his great-grandfather had diabetes, "so it jumped two generations to get to me." Dockery said he has a cousin with Type 1 diabetes and two grandparents with Type II.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston UTC lineman Hunter Dockery gets his blood sugar checked by trainer Todd Bullard during UTC football practice on Thursday afternoon. Dockery is one of two Mocs football players who have diabetes and must be tested regularly.

People with Type 1 diabetes can live long, active lives -- former Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler, now with the Chicago Bears, has it -- with a daily grind of tests and insulin shots.

Dockery and Bass tests themselves first thing in the morning, after breakfast, administer the first of usually four insulin shots a day and test themselves again before and after lunch and dinner and before they go to bed.

Then there's the practice routine, when tests are done every 30 minutes. Head athletic trainer Todd Bullard tests Dockery; Grant Davis or another member of Bullard's staff tests Bass.

A drop of blood from a finger prick is applied to a test strip, and in less than five seconds the glucose monitor reads the blood sugar level. In all, Bass and Dockery go through about a dozen tests a day.

"My fingers have got calluses all over them, little black dots," Bass said. "It doesn't hurt at all; it's just part of the daily routine."

The routine they were used to, with their parents nearby to help manage their conditions and treatment, changed dramatically when they arrived at UTC for preseason camp in late July.

"It was an easier transition in high school because I knew my trainer all four years," Bass said. "Now I'm just trying to get used to a new system, new people, a brand-new schedule -- it's a lot different, so it affects your numbers. Right now they're starting to level off; in training camp they were up and down. It was crazy."

Tim Dockery, Hunter's father and a Mocs lineman in the early 1980s, said Hunter didn't have a trainer to monitor him in high school. The attention Hunter has received from Bullard and his staff, Tim said, has been tremendous.

"It's been nothing but a positive and great experience," Tim said. "They're like a security blanket for us."

Bullard, in his sixth year at UTC, said the only diabetic he'd dealt with previously was a tennis player. He said the demands of working with two players at the same time "really made us look hard at what we're doing from a procedural standpoint."

Bass's blood sugar has fluctuated during practice far more than Dockery's have. That is why Bass has spent much more time off the field eating, though his numbers have leveled off more recently.

Both players are redshirting this season, so Bullard and his staff won't have to monitor their conditions during games. Still, with his watch timer going off every 30 minutes, Bullard said their condition during practice is constantly on his mind.

"The only thing you worry about is if they're so low that you just can't get them built back up," he said. "If they get to a point where they can't swallow, then they can't digest anything, and when they're at 30s, 40s, 20s, it gets to that point where they start to lose a lot of function overall."

Bass said dealing with diabetes has given him an understanding of his body that most people don't have.

"I would say I would almost rather have diabetes now because I know my body perfectly, and whatever is wrong with it, I can tell," he said.

"(My doctors) told me you can do anything," with diabetes, Dockery said. "You've just got to control it."

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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