published Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Freshmen will complement UTC Mocs veterans

  • photo
    SUTC linebacker Nakevion Leslie practices at Scrappy Moore Field early Monday morning.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MOCS TO OPEN ON CSS

UTC football coach Russ Huesman wants fans to come to Finley Stadium on Aug. 29 for the Mocs’ season opener against UT-Martin. But for out-of-towners, the game will be televised on Comcast Sports South.

“[The telecast] is for recruits, for the exposure on television,” Huesman said Tuesday. “[Locals] need to come on out. Locally they need to act like it’s not even on TV.”

The Mocs are hoping for a crowd of around 15,000 for the opener to a much-anticipated season. UTC is among the favorites to win the Southern Conference.

UTC will produce the telecast and athletic director David Blackburn said the university, the athletic department and the SoCon are combining to cover the costs, which will be about $8,000 each for the university and athletic department.

“We get to control the message, the production, commercials and so forth,” Blackburn said of a telecast that effectively will be a UTC infomercial when the game clock isn’t running.

CSS has outlets in 12 states, including all of UTC’s recruiting areas. Along with the live telecast, CSS will air at least one replay of the game.

Kickoff for the game will be around 7:30 p.m., with longtime Mocs radio broadcaster Jim Reynolds and “Sport Talk” co-host Scott “Quake” McMahen in the booth. Channel 3 sports anchor Keith Cawley will serve as the sideline reporter.

This is supposed to be the football season when the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s veterans play the bulk of the snaps. It’s supposed to be the season when battle-tested players lead the Mocs beyond average to a Southern Conference title and a deep Football Championship Subdivision playoff run.

The older players may carry a lot of the weight, but they won’t do it alone. There are several redshirt freshmen, and possibly some true freshmen, who will play pivotal roles.

“Our philosophy is to get the best 11 on the field, whoever they are,” fifth-year UTC coach Russ Huesman said.

Wide receiver C.J. Board and Will linebacker Nakevion Leslie are redshirt freshmen who appear to have solidified starting spots. Redshirt freshman safety Cedric Nettles has been in for a lot of snaps with the first team in camp due to injuries to Zach McCarter, who returned to practice Tuesy, and Dean Haynes.

Another redshirt freshman, cornerback Will Johnson, worked with the starting nickel and dime defenses Tuesday. He took over for sophomore Sema’je Kendall, who will spend some time at safety while All-SoCon senior D.J. Key is out with a foot injury. Key has practiced just once this preseason.

“Obviously we’ve been by the injury bug a little bit and we have to prepare ourselves for the scenarios and try to figure out who our best combination of guys is,” defensive coordinator Adam Braithwaite said. “We’ve got to get our group of redshirt freshman — guys like Cedric and Will Johnson, Nakevion Leslie — they have to get infused into the system and step up with the big boys.”

Johnson, among the fastest and most athletic players on the team, said he’s ready to seize the moment.

“I’ve been working real hard all summer and now I’ve got an opportunity to play with the first team this camp, and I’m not letting it go,” he said. “I’ve got to earn this, and I really just want to blend with the defense, blend with these guys.”

Nettles said one can’t afford to make rookie mistakes when playing with veterans.

“They’re going to bring it every time, so you’ve got to bring it every time with them,” he said.

The Mocs’ class breakdown is 11 seniors, 18 juniors, 15 sophomores and 46 freshmen, including 18 redshirt freshmen and numerous walk-ons. At least 16 of the 22 offensive and defensive starters likely will be seniors or juniors. Others, like quarterback Jacob Huesman and left guard Synjen Herren, are redshirt sophomores in their third year in the program.

Among the true freshmen who might have a shot at playing this season are wide receivers Xavier Borishade and Alphonso Stewart. Borishade impressed early in camp but has missed the past two days with a hip pointer, while Stewart has yet to practice after having his knee scoped last week.

Extra points

Herren left practice after getting his right foot stepped on and didn’t return. Backup offensive lineman Robert Hill is out for the season after rupturing his right Achilles’ tendon Sunday. … The FCS coaches’ preseason poll was released Tuesday and the Mocs were No. 25. Two-time defending national champion North Dakota State was No. 1 and Wofford from the SoCon was No. 5.

Contact John Frierson at jfrierson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.

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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