University of Tennessee at Chattanooga linebacker Zach Rayl was moved to defensive end recently out of necessity. That necessity has yielded an opportunity.
The Mocs are loaded with linebackers for next season, so barring a rash of injuries Rayl might not have played there much as a redshirt freshmen. Defensive end is a much different story.
UTC is expected to return both of its starters — rising senior Chris Donald and rising junior Josh Williams — neither of whom have participated in spring practice due to offseason surgeries.
Their backups are rising senior De’Markus Lee, who has played in three career games, and redshirt freshman Davis Tull. When Tull broke his right hand late in the final practice before spring break, that led to Rayl’s move to defensive end.
“It’s a completely different position,” Rayl, a former McMinn Central standout, said. “The hand’s down, you’re just rushing, the whole thing’s completely different.”
It may be different but it appears to suit the 6-foot-3, 208-pounder quite well. (He’s listed at 208 pounds in the spring media guide but appears to be closer to 220.)
Mocs coach Russ Huesman, defensive coordinator Adam Fuller and ends coach Marcus West have all been impressed by Rayl’s performance at a position he’d never played before. Rayl played quarterback and safety at McMinn Central and was recruited by UTC as a linebacker.
“He’s as active as a son of a gun,” Fuller said.
Added Huesman: “Zach was in Adam’s office the other day and ... we were talking and Zach said, ‘Man, I just feel like I’m not any good,’ and we had the exact opposite opinion of the strides that he’s made in three [practices]. We couldn’t ask for any better strides.”
West said he mentioned Rayl as a defensive end candidate — Rayl is about the same size as Donald and Williams — before Tull’s injury. Donald’s a converted linebacker, as well.
To continue to improve, West said, Rayl needs to develop confidence in what he’s doing.
“He’s fast enough, he’s got the tools, he’s just got to feel what he’s doing and get a little confidence,” West said.
Wednesday night’s practice was UTC’s last of the spring — the Blue & Gold game is Saturday — so Rayl has a few months to learn and adjust to his new spot.
“A day at a time. One step at a time. That’s about it,” Rayl said.
Defensive tackle Nick Davison (knee) practiced Wednesday after sitting out Monday. ... Prior to the start of the Blue & Gold game Saturday at 3 p.m., UTC will host an hour-long kids clinic at 1. Registration begins at 12:30. ... On Friday, Huesman and UTC will host the annual alumni golf tournament at Valleybrook Golf & Country Club. The tournament is for former UTC football players and the proceeds will go toward paying for Mocs to attend summer school.
During the final spring practice before Saturday’s Blue & Gold game, Omre Harris and Will Hewitt split the first-team snaps at left guard.
Harris started nine games there in 2009 and started the first three in 2010 before being replaced by Austin Wilson. Hewitt started the first two games in 2009 but didn’t play on the line last season.
Several coaches said this spring that Hewitt had a very productive offseason, among the best on the team, working on his fitness and his quickness.
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 ...