published Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Linebacker corps thin for UTC Mocs practice

  • photo
    UTC head football coach Russ Huesman watches his players during the Mocs' spring football scrimmage at Finley Stadium in this file photo.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

An already thin position for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team was even leaner for Monday's practice as sophomore Nakevian Leslie was the only experienced linebacker in the rotation.

With Muhasibi Wakeel and A.J. Hampton already sitting out the spring following surgery, the linebacker corps took another hit with T.J. Jenkins missing practice with a hamstring injury and Ale Ashlock attending a late class.

That mean converted tight end Austin Hall, a former Boyd-Buchanan player, and walk-on Gage Frady, who played at Bledsoe County, got action alongside Leslie, who also is slowed by a pulled hamstring.

"It's tough for me because I'm supposed to be limited at practice myself," said Leslie, who's making the switch from outside to inside linebacker. "But unfortunately with everybody else going down I can't be limited. I have to be able to take the extra reps.

"It was frustrating at first, but the coaches and other players are considerate and they've sat me out a couple of times just so I can get some rest. The injuries are slowing us down, but I feel like by the end of spring practice we'll be in good shape."

During one portion of the Mocs' skeleton drills, they went without linebackers, and for most of the two-hour workout getting enough plays was not a concern for the few healthy bodies.

"Today was a little different," linebackers coach Rusty Wright said. "T.J. had been running with the first team before he pulled his hamstring, and I want him back out there [Wednesday] because he's got to practice. But you've just got to do what you can do. I mean, we've got to practice, so you've got other guys that need work, too.

"It's different for me because I've gone from having Wes [Dothard] and Gunner [Miller], guys who had been in it for four years and knew as much as I did, to now guys who are still learning the position. We go back to day one, the basics like making sure we're lined up properly, that the footwork is good, and that's what you spend a lot of your time doing."

There will be talent at the position, once those sitting out heal and two promising freshmen join the rotation in preseason camp.

But with just six practices remaining before spring workouts wrap up, coaches have been impressed with Leslie's willingness to push through his own injury to remain on the field. During last Friday's scrimmage at Finley Stadium, Leslie had the biggest hit of the day, drilling receiver James Stovall near the sideline.

"He's a tough kid, man, I give it to him," head coach Russ Huesman said of Leslie. "A.J. Hampton is coming off surgery and Muhasibi is coming off surgery, so there's nothing you can do there. We're really thin on defense right now, and especially at linebacker, so I appreciate Nakevian coming out every day with a little banged-up wheel."

• The third annual "Scrappys," UTC's all-sports awards banquet, will be held April 10 beginning at 7 p.m. at The Chattanoogan hotel. Space is limited and the $50 tickets can be reserved by calling Joe Levine with the UTC Mocs Club at joseph-levine@utc.edu or 423-425-4233.

There also will be a private VIP reception with the Mocs coaches at 6:30 p.m. UTC athletes and coaches from all 17 men's and women's sports programs will be honored for the accomplishments in competition, the classroom and the community.

• The two McCallie School members of the Mocs' highly rated signing class, offensive lineman Cam Walker and receiver/defensive back C.J. Fritz, were at Monday's practice to watch drills.

• Mocs coaches will host a free youth clinic before the Blue/Gold spring game April 11. The clinic is set up for kids in eighth grade and under, with registration at 5:15 p.m. The spring game will kick off at 7.

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.

about Stephen Hargis...

Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...

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