In his first meeting with his players Monday, new University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football coach Russ Huesman had one main message he wanted to get across: "We need everybody."
About a dozen players attended Huesman's introductory news conference on Dec. 22, but Monday was Huesman's first chance to address the team, on the first day of the spring semester. The Mocs gathered at the Benwood Auditorium in the UTC Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science Building, and Huesman spoke to the team for about 40 minutes.
"Everybody sitting in that room said they're in, they want to be here, they want to get a degree and they want to win championships," Huesman said.
As the players filed into the auditorium, most paused to introduce themselves to their new coach. As they filed out, they all wore smiles and appeared excited about what they'd heard.
"He's really excited to be here, and him being (a UTC graduate) really gives him an extra boost to come in here and be really excited," sophomore offensive lineman Chris Harr said. "I think everybody's ready for a change. We all loved (former coach Rodney Allison), but it's time for something different and things weren't working out before, but I think we have a little hope and faith and fire to get everything going and start winning."
The mere fact that running back Shaun Kermah could manage a smile said something about how excited he is. The junior from Los Angeles didn't arrive back on campus until Monday after enduring a 15-hour layover in Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
"There wasn't much to do except lay down on top of my luggage," Kermah said.
Kermah, a junior college transfer, played in 10 games last season but had just 65 carries. He said that like a lot of players, he was looking forward to starting fresh with a new coaching staff.
"Everybody has a chance now. Everybody can show the coaches what they can do," he said. "It's a fresh start for everyone, and I think that's going to lead to some good things happening."
That fresh start means nobody's starting spot is safe, not even a three-year starter such as linebacker Joseph Thornton.
"Everybody's got to be on their toes because there are no set spots," Thornton said. "I know I can get my spot taken if I don't work hard, and that's the way it's supposed to be."
Huesman, who will be on the road recruiting until Friday, said he also stressed to next season's seniors that the 2009 season isn't just about building for the future.
"I said to the seniors, (2009) is not a throwaway year. I don't want it to be that. I don't want it to be about rebuilding so we're going to play freshmen and the other young kids," he said. "We're going to play the best players, and I don't want these seniors to think in any way that it's going to be a throwaway year where one win is enough or two wins is enough.
"We're going to win as many as humanly possible this year, and I want to do that for the seniors that are here."
The Mocs begin the offseason workout program this morning at 6:30, and wide receiver Clint Woods said the plan for the weeks ahead is simple.
"He wants us going to class and he wants us lifting," Woods said. "He said he's not going to kill us (in the weight room), but he wants us to work hard and get stronger and be ready for spring practice."