There are few rungs lower on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football practice ladder than the shame that comes with being a "lame dog."
It's the name given one of the variety of punishments for fumbling during a drill, forcing the guilty player to tuck the ball high and tight to his body while stooping to hop on one foot down the length of the field and back to the huddle, reaching down to touch the ground with each awkward step.
"It's crazy," Mocs receiver C.J. Board said Monday. "You definitely don't want to drop the ball during practice or you know you're going to pay for it. That's one thing every coach is serious about, and it doesn't take long before it's automatically in your mind to tuck the ball in and secure it."
From the time the Mocs step onto Scrappy Moore field for practice, even during warmups, backs and receivers are on alert that they're fair game any time they have a ball under their arm. At any moment, even as ball carriers trot back to the huddle after a play, defensive players, coaches and even team managers are apt to try to strip or punch the ball free.
And when coaches watch video of each day's practice, if they determine a ball was put in jeopardy by being carried too loosely, the guilty player will be kept after practice to do 10 up-downs or run extra gassers.
"They're beating that into our head, for sure," running back Keon Williams said. "We watched film from last year, and coaches pointed out that a lot of balls were being swung out too loose. It's not new, but there's more emphasis it feels.
"You don't want to get a BIJ: That's a 'ball in jeopardy.' They're hard on us for that. It's never fun to have to run extra, and it's embarrassing when you put a ball on the ground during practice and everybody sees you having to pay for it. It's a lot of mental stuff, and it definitely helps put it in the back of our minds to hold onto the ball at all times."
It's been a point of daily emphasis for three seasons, according to Mocs coach Russ Huesman, and each year he and his assistants come up with new ways to make sure players don't develop bad habits.
Regardless of the technique, the extra attention paid to securing the ball has paid off. The Mocs finished among the top 10 programs in the nation in fewest fumbles lost two years ago and were fourth nationally last season, losing just six fumbles.
"Sometimes it gets a little monotonous for the guys, I'm sure, but we'll always do those drills every practice because it's paid off," Huesman said. "It helps us defensively, too, because it gets those guys used to trying to strip it or knock it out. It's something we want to continue because we've had an unbelievable amount of success.
"For us to be as good as we want to be this year, we can't turn it over. We play too many tough teams to give them extra possessions."
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 ...