SPARTANBURG, S.C. - Eight University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football players were selected preseason All-Southern Conference by the league's coaches, the SoCon announced Thursday during media day at the Spartanburg Marriott. In addition, the SoCon media and coaches picked the Mocs to finish fourth in the league.
UTC finished tied for sixth in the SoCon in 2011, going 3-5 in the conference. Those five losses were by a combined 12 points. Mocs coach Russ Huesman said UTC was picked about where it should be.
"I used to like it when they thought we stunk," said Huesman, who has gone 6-5, 6-5 and 5-6 in his first three seasons. "Now they think we're just kind of average. They used to think we were horrible and now we're average, which is all right - that's about where we are right now.
"Going 5-6 or 6-5, that's pretty average."
The coaches and media picked Georgia Southern to win the league. The media picked Wofford second, while the coaches voted for Appalachian State. It was the reverse for third and then UTC was picked fourth by both for the first time since 1991.
The bottom five in both polls were Furman, Samford, Elon, The Citadel and Western Carolina bringing up the rear.
UTC had the top overall defense in the SoCon last season and three of the Mocs' returning starters were voted to the All-SoCon first team: defensive end Josh Williams, linebacker Wes Dothard and safety D.J. Key.
"I'm excited about [making the first team]," said Key, who represented UTC at the media day, along with right tackle Adam Miller. "It's something that will make me push myself even harder."
On the second-team defense, UTC had defensive end Davis Tull and cornerback Kadeem Wise. The Mocs' Miller and tight end Faysal Shafaat made the second-team offense, and Nick Pollard was the second-team kicker.
"I'll take any recognition because as an offensive lineman, you don't get much recognition," Miller said. "It's an honor."
Appalachian State led all schools with 10 All-SoCon players, followed by UTC and Samford with eight each. Furman, despite being picked to finish fifth, had the most first-teamers with five.
QB commits to UTC
Lovejoy (Ga.) High School quarterback Alejandro Bennifield, who participated in UTC's junior-senior skills camp last Saturday, committed to the Mocs on Thursday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder passed for almost 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns while leading Lovejoy to the Georgia Class AAAA state championship game.
The Mocs are already well stacked at quarterback, so Bennifield may have to wait a while to see the field. Starter Terrell Robinson is a redshirt sophomore and Jacob Huesman is a redshirt freshman. UTC's other scholarship quarterback is redshirt junior Graham Nichols.
Bennifield is UTC's second commitment for the Class of 2013, joining offensive lineman Hunter Townson of Ider (Ala.) High School.
One new face
There was a new face among the nine SoCon coaches at media day, but Western Carolina first-year coach Mark Speir is hardly new to the league. Speir replaced the fired Dennis Wagner as the Catamounts' coach in December, coming over from Jerry Moore's staff at Appalachian State.
Speir coached a variety of positions at ASU from 2003-11 and spent three years at Elon before that. He also coached at Western Carolina from 1991-96.
"I'm a rookie, I didn't know what to expect," Speir said of his first media day.
The Catamounts went 1-10 last season, 0-8 in the SoCon.
For about an hour prior to the start of media day, all of the players on hand - each team brought two - were casually standing around talking with each other. Nearly all were dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, and it was easy to notice how much they all looked alive and how much they had in common.
"I'd never met any of these guys before," Elon linebacker Blake Thompson said. "I think it's good to see them without the helmet and to see who they are outside of the football field."
The coaches and players met with the media for about two hours. This was the first in-person media day since 2008; the past three had been done via teleconference.
Former UTC defensive back Chris Lewis-Harris, a second-team All-SoCon player in 2011, signed a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday. Lewis-Harris joins quarterback B.J. Coleman and cornerback Buster Skrine as former Mocs in NFL training camps.