What is Wes Dothard planning for an encore?
As a redshirt sophomore last season, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga linebacker was among the best players in the Southern Conference, offense or defense, and was named to the Sports Network's All-America first team.
"There's a little pressure to live up to it," said the Mike linebacker from Carrollton, Ga. "I have my doubts, like what if I don't live up to it. But right now I'm just trying to focus on winning and trying to get our defense better and winning a SoCon championship."
Here are some of Dothard's eye-popping numbers from 2011: 98 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, a fumble return and an interception return for touchdowns.
He did all that in his first season as a starter and while playing alongside tackle-machine Ryan Consiglio, the Sam linebacker that led the SoCon with 120 tackles. Dothard and Consiglio formed a productive duo, Mocs coach Russ Huesman said, one similar to his pairing of Patrick Weldon and Eric McBride on Richmond's 2008 national championship team.
Huesman likes the linebackers he has this season and said the Mocs "are probably just as good across the board there as last year."
Heading into the preseason a year ago, the projected starting linebackers were Consiglio, Shane Heatherly and Gunner Miller. Heatherly suffered an ankle injury early on in camp, opening up a spot for Dothard, who showed flashes of greatness as a redshirt freshman but was also suspended for a game following an alcohol-related incident on campus.
Heatherly had started 10 games in 2010, but Dothard never gave him an opening last season. Following the graduation of Consiglio, Heatherly has slid over to the Sam spot, while Miller remains at Will.
Dothard said he can be a better player this season for a couple of reasons: he's in better shape and he's a smarter player. To be one of the top linebackers in the SoCon is to be among the very best in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Four SoCon linebackers were named to at least one preseason All-America team. Joining Dothard were Appalachian State's Jeremy Kimbrough and Wofford's Alvin Scioneaux and Mike Niam. Dothard, Kimbrough and Scioneaux comprised the SoCon coaches' preseason all-conference first team.
"I notice the other guys, but I don't really pay attention to what anyone else is doing," Dothard said. "I'm just trying to take care of my own business."
When asked about the state of the defense, Dothard said the group was only "OK" after 20 practices. He then followed that with, "We're playing next week so we've got to pick it up."
Next week -- is the Sept. 1 season opener at South Florida that close?
"It sounds weird. It got here really fast," he said. "I can remember this summer, it seemed like it was going to take forever to get here. Now its just about here."
The Mocs received votes in the preseason FCS Coaches' Poll, but were not among the top 25. Georgia Southern was ranked No. 3, Appalachian State No. 5 and Wofford No. 13. Defending national champion North Dakota State was No. 1. ... Safety Dean Haynes (foot) got his cast off Wednesday but is still confined to the training table during practice.