It wasn't without an element of drama near the end, but by noon Wednesday the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had capped one of the best recruiting classes in program history. The Mocs signed all 19 players who had committed before last weekend but the final two made the coaching staff wait a bit longer than they would've liked.
Three-star linebacker Dale Warren of Stone Mountain, Ga., and versatile quarterback/receiver Penny Smith of Knoxville Fulton faxed in their signed national letter of intent about an hour after after the rest of the class had already officially joined the program.
"Since we hadn't heard anything to lead us to believe anybody was going to surprise us, we didn't sweat those last couple of kids too much, but it was nice once we had them all signed and in the family," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "To get all 19 was huge for us. Our coaches did an unbelievable job. There were no egos, it was a team of coaches who worked together to bring this class in.
"When the season ended and we went into the recruiting calendar, we had just one commit. That had some people concerned, but I knew our staff was going after the right kind of guys and our coaches weren't afraid to battle some bigger programs to get kids."
While the major recruiting services do not have a rankings system solely for FCS programs, UTC's is the highest rated FCS signing class, even topping several FBS programs, according to 247sports.com. That ranking should go up since 247sports had not yet added four of the Mocs' signees that the website felt could flip to other schools but in fact did sign with UTC.
The Mocs were able to sign 19 of the 25 players who made official on-campus visits and of that total, which is the program's largest in six years, 13 chose UTC over offers from FBS programs. They signed at least one player at every position, getting 10 that project to play offense, eight on defense and one special teams player.
The Mocs also signed five players from the Chattanooga area -- McCallie cornerback C.J. Fritz, East Hamilton tight end Bailey Lenoir, Northwest Whitfield defensive tackle Isaiah Mack, Baylor long snapper Emory Norred and McCallie offensive lineman Cam Walker.
"We hit on all the needs we had and at every position," Huesman said. "And we went after character guys this year, so we feel real good about the type of kids that are coming into the program. They all have good leadership qualities and have solid grades."
The Mocs appear to have strengthened the backside of their defense for the future with two all-state Georgia linebackers -- Warren and Columbus Carver's Tim Whatley -- and a pair of physical safeties from Alabama -- Tae Davis of Oxford and Talladega's Tavon Lawson, who turned down an offer from Minnesota last week.
On offense, Greeneville athlete Trevor Wright joins Penny Smith as arguably the most versatile players in this class and both could see action at receiver and kick returner, while running back Richardre Bagley of Powder Springs (Ga.) might be the one who makes the quickest impact this fall.
Bagley, who was timed at 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash, was a rare four-year starter at a perennial 6A playoff program and averaged more than 200 rushing yards in the playoffs alone.
"We are extremely, extremely excited about him," Huesman said. "The biggest thing is he's a home run hitter. He can run and make a huge play for us, either catching the ball or taking a handoff.
"We'll see when they all get here who can help us right away. I always tell kids that they're promised an opportunity when they come here but nobody is promised a job. It's up to them to work their way onto the field. If they can play they'll play. If they aren't ready yet, we'll redshirt them and get them ready. But I believe this is a class that's going to help us win a lot of games."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...