published Sunday, January 26th, 2014

UTC football looks to close out impressive class

UTC football commitments

Kennington Cadwell (Columbia, Ga.) 6-6, 280 OL

Octavious Davis (Oxford, Ala.) 6-2, 190 S

C.J. Fritz (McCallie) 5-11, 170 CB

Melvin Hill (Washington County) 5-8, 175 RB

Tavon Lawson (Munford, Ala.) 6-1, 190, S

Bailey Lenoir (East Hamilton) 6-4, 245 TE

Isaiah Mack (Northwest Whitfield) 6-2, 260 DL

Bingo Morton (Fairburn, Ga., Langston Hughes) 6-2, 195 WR

Montrell Pardue (Clarksville Northeast) 6-0, 185 LB/S

Branden Parker (Miller Grove, Ga.) 6-3, 250 OL

Penny Smith (Fulton) 6-2, 180 QB

Cam Walker (McCallie) 6-4, 245 TE-OL

Dale Warren (Stephenson, Ga.) 6-0, 205 LB

Tim Whatley (Columbus Carver) 6-0, 210 LB

Trevor Wright (Greeneville) 6-1, 175 WR-DB

Will Young (McGill-Toolen, Ala.) 6-2, 196 WR

While there's still work to do down the homestretch, with just one week remaining before NCAA football commitments officially join their chosen programs, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga staff has put together one of the most talented incoming classes in recent memory.

Looking to add at least two and possibly four commitments this week, Mocs coaches are preparing to then switch their priority to guarding against last-minute defections before national signing day (Feb. 5).

As of Saturday evening, the UTC class was ranked second nationally among FCS programs behind Illinois State, according to 247sports.com.

By flipping coveted Fulton quarterback Penny Smith, who had been committed to Appalachian State, the Mocs now stand at 16 commitments. Possibly the most impressive stat for that group is that 11 of those chose UTC over offers from FBS programs.

While UTC coach Russ Huesman cannot speak about players until they have signed scholarship papers, he did acknowledge that as a class this one can continue to get the program closer to not only the FCS playoffs, but the ultimate goal.

"I think kids look at this place and they truly believe we can win a national championship here," Huesman said. "The biggest difference from a few years ago is that we aren't recruiting by telling them we're trying to get the program headed in the right direction. Now we're talking about being a playoff team and winning a national championship.

"Kids are buying into where the program is and where it's headed. I don't mind hearing kids talking about winning a national championship here, because the coaches are talking about it, too. That's the goal. If we're not trying to win a national championship, something is wrong. We already have great players, and we have enough positive resources to attract more."

The wave of recruiting momentum is actually the continuation of positive vibes that resulted from an eight-win season and a share of the Southern Conference championship. Several of the current commitments said the fact that UTC is coming off a conference title and is a playoff-caliber team is one of the biggest reasons they chose the Mocs.

"I think the program has a bright future, and judging by the talent I saw that has already committed, I think we are going to be a playoff team and one that can make a run once we get there," Greeneville, Tenn., receiver and cornerback Trevor Wright said when he committed last week. "I want to be part of all of that."

The Mocs could take as many as 20 players on signing day, but if they don't reach that total it would leave space for potential transfers once FBS programs have processed players who no longer will be on their teams.

And while this class is already loaded with playmakers -- at least 10 played offensive skill positions in high school -- the Mocs also are looking to add one more running back, another receiver, a linebacker and possibly at least one more defensive lineman.

In what is already a well-rounded class that will fill immediate needs, two common threads have tied the recruits together, regardless of position: character and speed. The high school coaches for all of UTC's current commitments singled out their players' academics, character and leadership traits as being just as impressive as their on-field ability. And 11 of the future Mocs also have been prep track stars, including a couple of sprinters who competed in state championship events.

"The philosophy has always been to recruit speed," Huesman said. "We are an athletic football team already, and that's not just at the skill positions. We've got defensive linemen who can fly to the ball, and we wanted to continue bringing those type players in.

"The final piece to winning and winning big is doing the little things right, so we definitely emphasized finding character kids. Our staff is doing a great job."

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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