The way Nakevion Leslie saw it, it was just a little Hillgrove Hawks hello.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sophomore linebacker decided the best way to welcome his former high school teammate, freshman running back Richardre Bagley, to the college game was by roughing him up a few times.
"Just saying hello to him," Leslie said with a laugh when asked if he had targeted Bagley on the freshman's first action during the Mocs' first preseason scrimmage Saturday at Finley Stadium. Leslie tossed Bagley to the ground like a rag doll even though the runner didn't have the ball, and he later launched himself like a torpedo into Bagley along the sideline.
"I did that to Richardre specifically because we used to play together, and I wanted to remind him how things were," Leslie said. "He gave me a little growl, like 'Grrrr,' after one hit and said he wished they would stop throwing to him in the flat where he's kind of an easy target. I told him I've got good closing speed and that's how I was able to come down and get him."
Leslie was a high school cornerback who has added nearly 30 pounds, and the defensive coaches are counting on that closing speed to make the strongside linebacker position a strength.
"We knew he could run well from evaluating him in high school," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "We knew eventually he'd be a safety or linebacker. He can run really well and is a bright kid who knows the defense. We've been very impressed with him."
Sunday, the Mocs took their first off day since camp began, but they will be back on Scrappy Moore Field twice today, the second of their four two-a-day practices.
Because of injuries Leslie started three games last year and was impressive during Saturday's scrimmage with his ability to cover shifty backs and corral them in space, making tackles that prevented much in the way of yards after catch.
He even finished with 1.5 tackles for loss.
"It's difficult at times covering out there, but whenever I see the quarterback look a certain way I just try to react and come downhill, square up and make the tackle," Leslie said. "We work a lot on closing in on backs coming out on a pass like that during practice. I'm just trying to carry what I learn out to the field and make a few plays."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
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 ...